For the Birds Radio Program: Why do birds have crests? And Baker's Blue Jay Hot Cereal

Original Air Date: Dec. 26, 1990 (estimated date)

Laura talks about the crests that many birds have, and Jim Baker urges you to buy “Baker’s Blue Jay Hot Cereal.”

Duration: 3′43″


Of all the features that make a Blue Jay handsome, probably the most widely recognized is its crest. A jay displays this crest to show aggression. The crest sticks up most conspicuously when jays are fighting over territory or a mate, or when they’re mobbing an owl or cat. The crest flattens against the head when the jay is foraging, preening, or courting. The skin beneath the crest raises and lowers it in the same way that the skin on our arms raises our arm hairs when we have goose bumps.

The Blue Jays closest relative, Steller’s Jay of western North America, also has a crest which it uses for essentially the same displays. No other North American corvids have crests, but several unrelated species do have crests. Cardinals, titmice, and waxwings are the most obvious. The cardinal’s close relative, the Pyrrhuloxia, also has a crest, as does the Phainopepla, a silky black flycatcher of the arid Southwest.

Waxwings nest in large colonies and don’t really defend a territory or show much aggression toward anyone, especially compared to Blue Jays, so there must be some subtle advantages to crests that we don’t really understand fully. The Pileated Woodpecker has a bold red crest which gives it its name—a pileum was a skullcap worn in ancient Rome. The only other North American woodpecker with a bold crest is the endangered—and possibly extinct—Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Although Ivory-bills look very much like pileateds, they’re only distantly related.

In the duck family, Wood Ducks, mergansers, and the Tufted Duck have crests, which have a more shaggy appearance than the pointed Blue Jay crest. Another shaggy crest belongs to the Belted Kingfisher. The silliest crest belongs to the California Quail—its teardrop-shaped top knot arches forward over its forehead. This comical bird is one of the most common animals in the world of Disney—there are many cartoons showing a family of quails running in a line with their little topknots jutting forward.

Crests can be lovley or funny adornments for many birds, but no one really knows why some birds have crests when closely related birds often do not. But ornithologists do agree that not one bird in the world has a need for that most well-known crest of all, Crest Toothpaste.

This is Jim Baker with a simple observation. On winter mornings when the windchill is 30 below, we humans sit inside our toasty warm houses eating hot cereal and drinking steaming coffee. What do Blue Jays face at breakfast time? Frozen sunflower seeds, with a cup of snow on the side. A lucky few get my original Baker’s Blue Jay Blend, but even that gets powerfully cold setting out in a feeder through a long winter’s night.

That’s why I came up with Baker’s Blue Jay Hot Cereal. After a bitter cold night, serve up my nutritious blend of seeds, fruit, and egg shells, and my special ingredient, ground up baby chicks, cooked to just the right temperature to warm their tummies. The look of gratitude on those jays’ faces will warm your heart.

Yep. Baker’s Blue Jay Hot Cereal. It’s the right thing to do. Choose the original Instant Formula–just add water and cook—or try my new microwave formula, in individual serving packets. Available only at Baker’s Blue Jay Barn, up the shore a ways.