As the late autumn settles, the trees sport just a few little brown, amber leaves that will fall any minute and the weather gets colder and colder with every passing second.
Some birds are making their yearly migrations, soaring through the sky with no abandon. But some others though, prefer to stay put, and maybe a lot more than you think might stay put.
One crucial factor that plays into the bird’s decision on whether to stay or to go is the availability of food resources.
But as far as we all can see, winter transforms the greenery around us into a wasteland with very little to feed upon other than a few wintering fruit trees and their sap.
But the birds seem to be thriving.
Where are they getting their appetite filled up enough to be so energetic even in the harsher and colder months?
Today we are going to be looking at a very interesting behavior in birds that is referred to as ‘caching’ or in simple words storing food for the future.
Do Birds Store Food For The Winter?: Caching Behavior
If you are a bird-lover yourself and have set up a bird feeder in your backyard or apartment balcony.
Then you may have noticed birds picking up the seeds and then flying right along, and often they come back, again and again, picking up seeds in a frenzy and returning back with the same zeal.
If you observed closely, then you might definitely have wondered, are they just fast eaters? Or are they taking these seeds somewhere?
Well, your second assumption is correct, the birds are in fact storing the food for various purposes.
Many birds like blue jays, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches engage in this storing behavior called caching.
They cache food, tens of thousands of seeds sometimes, in burrows or holes in the trees, often filling up hollow trees completely.
They also have been observed to dig holes or burrow into the ground and store their food there, covering it up with nearby debris so that whosoever comes around in search of their food goes back empty-handed.
Birds Caching Behaviour
Most fascinatingly though, the birds never forget they have stored food in certain spots. Most birds have shown the incredible ability to not only remember the exact spot where they hid these food items.
But also what seeds they hid where, and are able to tell the specific spot of each grain and seed, even after a whole month.
Some birds have been observed to be extra cautious when caching their food, and have been seen digging the food back up and re-hiding it when they thought that some other bird had seen their stash – now isn’t that clever.
Not only is this behavior beneficial for the birds to store the food themselves, but it has also become a crucial method of seed dispersion wherein the birds have become one of the main sources of ensuring that many species continue their lineage.
In fact, 11 species of oak trees have become entirely dependent on jays for the dispersal of their acorns.
But this mutualistic relationship between trees and birds does not end there.
Whitebark pines depend entirely upon nutcrackers to disperse their seeds, and nutcrackers are now a crucial part of keeping this endangered species of trees going.
The cool facts about this behavior are seemingly never-ending!
A fun, if obvious fact about this behavior is that northern birds exhibit more of it than southern birds as they have a higher need to store food for the colder months.
As a result, it has also been observed that the hippocampus, which is where memory related to spatial things resides, is much bigger in northern birds as compared to birds in the south.
And even more mind-blowing still, when scientists studied the hippocampus of these birds in different seasons, it was seen that it actually grew larger during the fall to help the bird’s memory account for its stored food! Now, how incredible is that!
Why Do Birds Store/Cache Their Food?
The answer to this might be clear to you, now that you have understood the behavior itself.
Caching is a very important survival mechanism in birds, especially during the winter when resources are scarce.
Not only do they do it in anticipation of the coming colder months but also as a precautionary measure in the case that the weather makes a turn for the worse and makes hunting for food impossible.
It is an important way to store food for the bird in times of need so that they have their best shot at surviving.
Many birds exhibit this behavior like jays, crows, many kinds of owls, shrikes, tufted titmice, nutcrackers, nuthatches, chickadees, falcons, and so on.
So that is how birds make their way through the rough days of winter, by stocking up food all around their territory and amazingly remembering each spot perfectly.
We hope you learned something new and exciting today, and the next time you see a bird visiting your bird feeder several times, picking up seeds, know that they are probably stocking up for the tougher months coming.
Thank you for reading!
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