If you go to Wikipedia and ask about the word "cache," all links lead to computers. I found no mention of birds, like blue jays. An oversight.
For animals, caching is a survival strategy personified in our yard right now by jays and chipmunks. They are storing food for winter. They seem to be pessimistic about the coming weather. Or, genetics direct them to overshoot needs regardless.
The chipmunks have an underground den in one of our gardens, the den obviously large enough for thousands of sunflower seeds. The chipmunks are disciplined and frugal. They don't eat on the job. They scamper home with cheeks filled with seeds.
The jays — there are two of them — are taking peanuts in the shell. That's a bird-food splurge for us, an opportunity, however, to see the birds up close and often. Well, as often as I replenish the peanuts.
I rigged a plastic container to hang from a feeder standard. I thought it might require a display of intelligence from the jays. They must reach deep into the small bucket to succeed. Turns out what it demands is more thought on my part if I want to challenge them.
We keep the peanuts away from the chipmunks and squirrels. Our generosity has bounds.
Jays don't eat on the job, either, flying away with the peanut in no particular pattern to at least three general locations. The birds are not stockpiling in the chipmunk sense. They are hiding each peanut individually, here and there.
In the case of our pair, that must be hundreds of locations, limited apparently only by our peanut and seed budget. Research shows that the birds will remember all of the hiding places or nearly so, enough anyway to impress someone who constantly is looking for his phone.
I put a dozen peanuts out each morning, and rattle them in the container as a signal. I have no idea if that means anything. Either way, if I don't watch closely I will miss the brief pickup, soon over in about 15 minutes.
The jays, bright colors in our ever-fading landscape, take sunflower seeds, as well, as many as 20 per visit, stuffed in their cheeks to be cached. That's a lot of hiding places; they have prodigious memories.
Research has found that birds use memory aids in this behavior, such as trees, rocks and other landmarks. Chickadees actually expand the memory portions of their brains in the fall, as caching begins.
Nuthatches and some woodpecker species also store food for thin times. They hide seeds behind tree bark or under the siding on your house. They, too, will remember those locations. In all, some 15 species of birds cache.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes that caching is like a giant game of Concentration.
Acorn woodpeckers in Arizona make no secret of their caching. They live in small colonies, their caching effort not solo, perhaps the reason the food is not hidden.
These birds chisel small cavities in posts and trees, power poles a frequent choice. Acorns are then hammered into the holes, the cupboard doors left wide open.
Here, thievery must be common among cachers. Jays, alert to compromised locations, will move the food to another hiding place.
Jay families sometimes remain together long enough for the young of the year to assist in raising the next generation. If there is gratitude for the help it seems not to involve sharing.
Other North American woodpeckers that cache are downy, red-headed, hairy, Lewis, red-bellied, gila, golden-fronted and red-bellied sapsucker.
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at email@example.com. Join his conversation about birds at startribune.com/wingnut.