In Brian Payton’s fascinating profile, you’ll meet a highly intelligent, little-known corvid called the Canada Jay, as well as 81-year-old Dan Strickland, the world’s foremost authority on the bird species.
This jay’s name, recorded in the data as WLKOSR, is an acronym for the color combination of the three bands on his legs. He is a member of the corvid family, which also includes ravens, crows, and magpies—all extremely intelligent birds. They have a brain-to-body ratio that is equivalent to dolphins and chimpanzees and almost rivals humans. Unlike their fellow corvids, Canada jays have become remarkably bold. While other corvids patiently (or impatiently) wait for the cookie to drop, Canada jays swoop right in and take it from human fingers, much to the delight of skiers, hikers, and researchers alike.
It’s easy to fall for this dusky charmer, but there are countless other birds and animals to study. Why spend a lifetime on this one?
“A lot of wildlife biologists spend ages putting out traps for animals, then catch them, put radio collars on them, and release them,” Strickland says. Those researchers get radio signals from animals who often flee at the sight of humans, or are only active at night. He, on the other hand, has for decades enjoyed intimate views of his subjects’ lives—all the rivalry, intrigue, courtship, mating, and rearing of offspring.
Our prodigious brains can store vast amounts of information. London cab drivers, for example, must memorize the Knowledge, a set of famously grueling exams covering the location of 25,000 city streets. Not bad, but a Canada jay can cache up to 1,000 food items per day—then remember and retrieve upward of 100,000 of them over the course of a season.