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Social Organization of Wintering Blue Jays

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Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) differ from most New World jays by not breeding communally. Thus, blue jays have been considered less social than other New World jays. This study re-examined blue jay sociality by determining the extent of social organization in the non-breeding season. Color-banded blue jays were observed for 3 years at the Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in central Massachusetts. Of 413 jays that were banded, 78 were present in the Sanctuary at least 4 weeks after their inititial banding and 7 others were observed at an adjacent Farm, about 600 m from the main study site. During winter, a jay group centered its activities around a backyard birdfeeder. This group remained distinct from a neighboring group. Many jays returned to the group in successive winters. Replacement of parents by their offspring also occurred. A stable dominance hierarchy was established in the group and this hierarchy showed some stability over successive winters. A blue jay vocalization, the bell call, showed both inter- and intragroup variation in some call parameters. This variation was sufficient to allow for the identification of groups as well as the individuals within groups. Thus, blue jays are highly social during the non-breeding season. Furthermore, this sociality does not appear to diminish in the breeding season.

Affiliations: 1: Departments of Psychology and Biology, Clark University, Worcester, Mass., 01610. U.S.A.

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