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Helpers at the Nest

One of the many reasons corvids succeed!

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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Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

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]

Thanks for joining me today to “tune in” to nature. If you like hearing BirdNote but can’t always catch it, you can sign up to have the shows sent to you. It’s easy and it’s free. See how at birdnote.org. 

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Call of the Brown Jay provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Matt Medler [103288] and flock calls [uned] Gerrit Vyn.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org   June 2017   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# BRJA-01-2008-06-05- BRJA-01b

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.  

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