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Brown Jays, like this juvenile, make nesting a family affair. The entire flock takes care of a single nest, which holds four eggs laid by one female in the flock. Each bird brings food to the young. And when the young first leave the nest, the helpers teach them to find food and recognize danger, skills necessary for survival into adulthood. In turn, the helpers may inherit the nesting territory when they come of age.
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Helpers at the Nest
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
We’re walking in the Mexican countryside, when we hear a chorus of raucous calls.
[Brown Jays calling]
A flock of Brown Jays has gathered nearby. [Brown Jays calling]
Now, at the bend in the trail, we see them: a dozen chocolate-colored birds, nearly the size of crows, but slimmer.
Brown Jays are distinctive in appearance, but there’s something else that sets them apart from most other birds. They are cooperative breeders. The entire flock takes care of a single nest, which holds four eggs laid by one female in the flock. Each bird in the flock will bring food to the young in the nest.
[Brown Jays calling]
When the young first leave the nest they’re vulnerable and naïve. Nest helpers then teach the young to find food and recognize danger, complex skills necessary for survival into adulthood. In turn, the helpers may inherit the nesting territory when they come of age. [Brown Jays calling]
Worldwide, about 3% of bird species, ranging from swifts to woodpeckers, are cooperative breeders. For some birds, a few extra beaks around the nest are the key to survival. [Brown Jays calling]
Support for BirdNote comes from American Bird Conservancy and Bringing Back the Birds, a photo book by Owen Deutsch on the importance of protecting birdscapes. Available at amazon.com.
Call of the Brown Jay provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Matt Medler  and flock calls [uned] Gerrit Vyn.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org June 2017/2020 July 2022 Narrator: Mary McCann
Brown Jay data from: Williams, Dean A. and Amanda M. Hale. “Helper Effects on Offspring Production in Cooperatively Breeding Brown Jays (Cyanocorax morio).” The Auk, July 2006, online.