The Great Shakeout

Posted by Kerry McFall, October 21, 2016

Scrub jay sketch

“Bob’s Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oregonian’s are all supposed to be preparing and practicing for the Big One today (10/20/2016) by participating in the statewide earthquake drill called the “The Great Shakeout”.  I think most of us have gotten over shrugging our shoulders and just hoping to be in the first wave as the Tsunamis wash us to Kingdom Come.  We are constantly being reminded that the Big One is coming because research shows that anticipating emergencies, and thinking about how you might respond, actually increases your chances of survival.

In that spirit of preparedness, we keep our cache in the garage, stocked with tuna, granola bars, and bottled water, and the old sleeping bags and tarps are fairly accessible in tubs under the workbench.  There’s a big wrench by the back door (for shutting off the gas valve and/or the water main), right next to the flashlight and fire extinguisher.  Got flashlight batteries? Yep.  Got candles?  Two big new ones scented like hazelnut latte, which is probably the closest we’ll get to coffee for months if the earthquake does what’s anticipated.  (I do have an adorable tiny backpacking stove that burns a tiny tin of fuel, but it should last about an hour, tops.)

Prepared?  Not really, but it’s a start.  And what about all of our furry and feathered friends?  What is to become of them?  Case in Point:

Jay caching acorn

“How Scrub Jays Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Bob the Blue Jay has amused the neighbors and us for a couple of years by burying nuts in the lawn, then covering them with leaves.  I decided to do a little research to prove to myself that he would never be able to find them again… but I proved myself WRONG.  There are many scientists who believe that crows, jays, and nutcrackers know what they’re doing – each autumn, they are preparing for a cold winter, when no nuts will be readily available, and it’s called “caching” for them, too.  And although it varies between bird species, there’s a pretty good chance that old Bob the scrub jay will be back for those soggy nuts later, right where he cached them, under the 47th four-inch yellow leaf south of the viney maple beside the birdbath.  Even after I get around to raking the leaves, apparently he’s still got a good chance of success!

Knowing that Bob and his buddies are gonna be fine, I think I’ll go buy a few bags of dry cat food, and a few boxes of chardonnay and add them to my earthquake cache… Worse comes to worst, we can help Bob find his hazelnuts, and share the cat food with Sparky after the tuna runs out.  Plus, the wine requires no cooking, provides a few calories, and warms the belly and the soul.  Prepared?  Closer.

If you’d like to learn more about birds caching food, here are a couple of interesting web pages on the topic: