Q: Every winter, we feed the birds, and attract several different species. Last winter, we saw no blue jays at all. This winter they are back, and come to feed in a small flock.

They eat plenty of bird seed, but also peck persistently at the siding of our house. We have 4x8-foot exterior plywood siding, with 1x4 trim covering the crack where the siding meets.

The pecking begins early in the morning and continues off and on throughout the day. They do this mostly on the south side of the house, standing on the bulkhead. They also stand on the sill and on the horizontal trim and peck above it. We now have several long and narrow areas of bare wood above these "perches." Not only is the paint gone, but the wood is looking rather chewed up, too.

My brother theorized that they are trying to get at bugs behind the wood but this doesn’t seem likely. It seems to be the paint they are after because, once the paint is gone in a particular spot, they move to the side and peck off more paint. I assume they are eating it, as we are not seeing a lot of paint chips on the snow below. Can you explain this behavior? And do you know of any way to prevent it?

Valerie

A: Observation has brought you to the correct conclusion -- the blue jays are after the paint, not as your brother suggested, the bugs behind the wood. After all, they are not woodpeckers, and if they were, your problems would be worse; they might be after carpenter ants.


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Blue jays have a liking for paint! Anyone wanting to confirm this can do so easily by watching what the jays do following a session of banging away at painted siding. They fly down to the ground, or whatever surface has collected the fallen chips, and eat them. Apparently jays are more attracted to lighter color latex paints, rich in calcium from the manufactures adding calcium carbonate.

In season, they will eat acorns, seeds, fruits and insects, and also raid nests and eat other birds’ eggs. Give them a little help by saving your eggshells for them.

The only suggestion that I know of that might save your paint, other than repainting with a low calcium-based oil paint, is to offer the destructive jays crushed egg shells. Of course, it is important to limit salmonella. Wash, rinse and boil the shells for 10 minutes before crushing to pieces smaller than a dime. The crushed shells can be placed in a tray feeder or a shallow dish, where they will be found. In addition, I would imagine that crushed oyster shell (for poultry) from a farm supply store will also appease the jay’s requirements.

It is known that birds need additional calcium during egg laying time. Just why blue jays appear to need more than other birds is somewhat of a mystery, and it may be that jays are smarter than most other birds and cache (hoard) the paint chips for nesting season. Jays may be more interested in calcium handouts, but other feeder birds will accept the shell pieces as well, especially as nesting season approaches.

Another interesting thought is that this additional need for calcium appears to be connected with the effects of acid rain in the1900s that began leaching calcium from the soil. Remember the talk about rain acidifying (neutralizing calcium) in lakes?

You should consider continuing to offer crushed shell in a tray feeder long after you stop filling you feeder with seed. Bears are out now -- and hungry!

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com