Why Do Birds Cache ? – To Put Cache in the Bank for a Rainy Day

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Looking and Planning.

Did you ever notice birds hiding their seed in some really odd places? Some birds do it hundreds, even thousands of times, going back and forth with beaks full of seed.

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OK, got a plan.

Are they like squirrels where they remember where they put them?  You bet they do, no bird brains here. Well actually birds are pretty intelligent for their size. It seems better than us always looking for where we left our keys last.

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How about here?

There are quite a few that cache food, but the most common and easily seen are the Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch and the Chickadee.

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The first bird I ever noticed doing it was a Nuthatch putting seed inside crevices in the mortar joints of my garage. He went on all day stuffing seed in to openings. Funny thing was other birds were watching and when he left to get more seed, they proceeded to take what was stored for themselves.

Just gotta get it in there.

Just gotta get it in there.

The next bird I saw do this was a Titmouse. He had a better plan by storing it in the bark of downed trees. It made discovery a bit more difficult for the thieves.

I have read where some birds have remembered thousands and thousands of caches. The leader among the hoarders in my garden seems to be the Blue Jays. I have watched them cart up to four peanuts in one trip. I understand, they can carry even more at onetime in their throat.

Hum, need a new spot.

OK, anybody see that?.

How do they remember you might ask? Research has shown that birds remember landmarks in the landscape, like rocks, shrubs and certain trees. Since they go on landmarks and not the seed location, if something is moved, well they just can’t find the bounty. Some birds do find seed they left without the benefit of landmarks, but that is less common.  The cached food occurs mostly during the fall and winter when food supplies are likely to become scarce. Want the science? (source)

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Maybe throw in a distraction.

I think it is pretty amazing birds do this. Science study estimates chickadees cache as many as one hundred thousand food items per year, not even reusing old cache sites. They do all this without olfactory cues and rely on spacial and object-oriented landmarks.

Round two!

Round two!

You would think the birds are trying to keep seed dry by selecting a cache based on protection from the elements, but that is not the case.

Looks good here.

Looks good here.

They do it out of concern for the seed being robbed by other birds as I mentioned on the Nuthatch. Finding good locations really is something on which their life depends.

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Looking over the options.

Storing food for lean times makes these birds pretty resourceful in my book, even pretty smart. Now who calls these birds bird brained?

Now this has potential.

Now this has potential.

Next, is that a robin doing that?

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About Donna Brok

Love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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17 Responses to Why Do Birds Cache ? – To Put Cache in the Bank for a Rainy Day

  1. Hope says:

    I love this post. I’ve seen them stealing it many times, but had no idea where they were going with it! Thanks… how fun! :)

  2. Beautiful pictures, Donna! I love the Tufted Titmouse. Had one at my house last year, but haven’t seen them around here yet this year.

  3. I had no idea birds did that! That’s amazing.

  4. acuriousgal says:

    I learn something new from you everyday, Donna…thank you for that!! I do have to say at first I thought your post read, why do birds sashay? Well, because they like to dance and they like country western music….LOL!! Seriously though, I should cache. I could easily find places to hide my goodies and easily not remember where I put them(such an excellent way to lose weight)!! ~Barb

  5. franzisofie says:

    Really interesting! Great that I learn so much more about birds. I started to look around for birds :). Great photos!

  6. Most of mine seem to sit and crack them open all day long but that would explain the 300 lbs of food we went through last year :( who knew I had a bunch or hoarders possibly lurking in my yard :) Cool shots as always!

  7. Pat says:

    Great post. It’s so much fun to watch them.

  8. Fascinating! And great photos as usual. Blessings, Natalie :)

  9. mariekeates says:

    I guess it also helps the spread of plants when the cache is forgotten and grows?

  10. Julie says:

    Lovely observations and photos!

  11. Lisa Morgan says:

    A great read, and so informative I actually think you could probably, with very little effort, turn it into a fun kids’ ebook. I understand that this is important instinctual activity, but here in our urban area, where things can be more uncertain for our bird friends, we’ve cut down on the lean times with a few new squirrel proof bird feeders around our home. Thanks again for a fun post!

  12. janechese says:

    Nicely done! I love captures of behaviours such as these.Watched a Magpie once for a long time as it stuffed things into the crevices of our stone steps.

  13. Wonderful that you could catch birds demonstrating this behavior. When I think of birds doing this, I always think of Bluejays.

  14. Alain says:

    Your photos are beautiful.
    It is interesting that some birds use landmarks to find the seeds they have hidden and cannot find them if the landmarks have been changed. This reminds me of bees that come back to where they left. If you move the hive while they are gone, they won’t be able to get back home.

  15. Fossillady says:

    That is so cool Donna, never realized they did that!

  16. Another fascinating post…I have never seen this as the seeds are exposed and all over the garden…

  17. This explains why the chickadees make hundreds of trips a day between our feeder and the trees in the ravine at the bottom of our back yard. I thought that either a few chickadees were being pigs or that I was supporting a huge clan of chickadees.

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