Many of the birds that are attracted to garden feeders seem to spend a fair amount of time engaged in ‘Hide and Seek’ around the garden and nearby woodland. Of course to the birds this is no game but an important winter food strategy called caching. Many bird species cache, or store food, during periods of abundance (mostly in the Autumn) for use at times when less food is available such as late winter.
Coal Tits are one those species that has a particular affinity for caching food. Smaller and lighter than many other similar species they use a snatch and grab feeding technique making repeated journeys to and from the garden feeder. Sunflower hearts and kibbled or split peanuts appear to be the food of choice for Coal Tits when it comes to garden feeders. Often they will only move a short distance from the feeder and sit consuming the heart/nut they have grabbed but occasionally throughout Autumn and early Winter you can see them moving off further to stash their chosen morsel in the hope of retrieving it in the months ahead.
I have also noted larger species such as Magpies and Jays frequently caching food in the garden. The Magpies particularly always amuse me as they are so wary, always glancing about to check no one is looking before burying a peanut in the lawn. They are very through, often picking up a leaf and pushing it down over firmly over the food item to cover or hide it from view. I’ve lost count of the number of times a second Magpie (presumably the other one of a pair) has wandered over a few seconds later, flipped the leaf over and eaten the stored food.
Jays and acorns are probably the best known food cache partnership. Many oak trees appear as a result of Autumn-stored acorns pushed into the ground never to be recovered. To be fair to Jays they are reportedly very good at recovering their caches with some relocating up to 75% of the food items previously stored. They also use ‘landmarks’ such as trees or other features to remind them of where they buried their cache.
Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.