Sometimes when I fill my bird feeders in late afternoon, I notice the food is gone by morning. When food vanishes overnight, I suspect deer, raccoons, opossums and flying squirrels are the likely culprits. But when seed disappear during the day, feathered seed hoarders may be responsible.
Years ago I learned about seed hoarding birds by watching a white-breasted nuthatch as it repeatedly harvested acorns from a white oak tree. Often it took a single acorn, flew to a nearby perch, wedged the nut in a crevice in the bark, then hammered the acorn with its dagger-like bill and extracted the meat.
Just as often, however, the nuthatch didn't eat the acorn. Instead it flew to a nearby dead tree and stashed the nut behind a slab of peeling bark. The first time I observed this I peeled off of a piece of bark, and a handful of acorns poured onto the ground. The nuthatch was storing about half the acorns it collected.
Chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers also sometimes store food in roosting cavities when weather gets cold and snowy. I've occasionally found such caches during mid-winter nest box inspections.
Once I watched a red-bellied woodpecker make repeated trips to a knothole on an abandoned outhouse. Each time it dropped a mouthful of sunflower seeds through the knothole. What the woodpecker failed to understand was that the seeds were not retrievable unless it could later get into the outhouse.
Blue jays also jam their cheek pouches with large quantities of seed. I've often watched them carry off mouthfuls of sunflower seeds and even in-shell peanuts. Then they bury the stash just like squirrels.
They fly to the edge of the yard and tug at tufts of dried grass where they deposit their treasure in a shallow hole. Who knows who finds more of these food caches, the jays or squirrels? In the long run, however, it probably evens out when jays find nuts buried by squirrels.
So if food seems to mysteriously disappear from bird feeders, don't assume squirrels or night visitors are responsible. It may simply be seed-hoarding nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Rd., Cameron, WV 26033.