Early in the spring the Gray Jays almost entirely disappear. Some week later they are back with young birds almost grown. Very few nests have ever been found and little is known of their nesting habits, aside from the fact that every effort is made by the birds to keep them a dark secret.
The following information supplied in a lecture from Mr. Smith Riley of Greenlawn, Long Island, is very interesting. The reference is to two nests discovered by Mr. Bradbury for the Denver Museum.
"One nest was found in a rather small yellow pine tree in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the other was found in the lodgepole pine and Englemann spruce regions of Colorado. These nests were found in late winter long before it was sufficiently warm for plant growth to begin and when zero temperatures were not infrequent".
"Most birds nest during the period of plentiful food, but at this time very little food is available where these birds range. As they have the habit of cacheing food, it may be that supplies so stored are available during the nesting and so they can hatch and rear their young when snows are still deep on the ground".
"The nests found were so constructed that the incubation of the eggs would not be destroyed by the low temperature prevailing during the nesting season".
Concerning the Clark Crow, Mr. Riley writes, "I recall seeing five (Clark Crows) contending for a bone that had been thrown out on the snow at the stage station in Teton Pass on the Jackson Hole road. Those that were fought away would go through rather elaborate activities having the appearance of whetting their bills on the snow to improved the condition of their weapons and to get their courage up to the point of attack. I understand these birds nest much before the general nesting period for the regions where they range. Mr. Bradbury told me of Clark Crow's nests found in southern Colorado, containing young birds with pinion nuts in their crops in early spring when no nuts of this sort were available on or under the trees as far as human observation was able to ascertain, so it may be that these birds make food caches like some of the jays."
I rather expect Mr. Riley that your suspicion is correct. I have often seen the Clark Crows gathering supplies of surplus food together in protected places among the matted branches of the alpine trees much as the chipmunks do. I am not certain that they return and feed upon such supplies later but it is reasonable to expect that they do - if the "Camp Robbers" have not found them first.
Assistant Chief Ranger, Macy, reports the definite identification of a red-winged blackbird, likely Agelaius Phoenicous Caurinus, seen about the swamps at Longmire Springs, elevation 2760 feet, on April 28th of this year. Only one individual, a male, was seen. Ranger Macy comes from Kansas where the thrilling whistle of the red-wing is a familiar sound.
Only one blackbird, the Brewers, had been reported in the Park previous to this and it is not at all common.
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