For the Birds Radio Program: Reebok

Original Air Date: Sept. 22, 1995

Today Laura Erickson talks about a bird that came right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie–at least according to one of its panicky victims. Since she already has a Sneakers and a Nike, she calls this one Reebok. 3:05

Audio missing


Last week I got a desperate call from a woman in West Duluth who was being terrorized by a Blue Jay every time she went outside. It flew down to land on her head or shoulder, squawking and fluttering its wings. She thought it was rabid or came out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

When robins, mockingbirds, or even Blue Jays attack people, it usually means they have a nearby nest, but since Blue Jays virtually never nest twice in a season, that seemed impossible. The behavior didn’t sound right, either–attack Blue Jays bonk heads with their beaks but never alight on people . My guess was it was a baby jay who had been raised by a person and released. She caught it and brought it to my house, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was.

There’s nothing in the universe more endearing than a baby jay, but people have no business, legal or moral, raising one unless they know what they’re doing. This one’s beak and feet are too big and its head too small for its body–it had apparently been on an improper diet. Even worse, its tail feathers are completely broken off. Whoever raised it obviously kept it in an improper enclosure. Broken tail feathers make flight difficult to control, which is pretty much of a death sentence in fall here in the Hawk Migration Capital of the Midwest.

To successfully release a baby bird, it must be kept outdoors as much as possible as soon as it can sit in a branch. First flights are clumsy, but baby jays need to practice taking off from and landing in bushes and trees rather than on sofas and tables. They need sunshine for their bodies to produce the vitamin D necessary for healthy bone development. And, perhaps most important, Blue Jays need time to learn how to be wild while their parents or caretaker is still feeding them. Tiny fledglings sit tight in a bush most of the time, preening and waiting for their parent or favorite person to feed them. They study the world around them, and sample bugs and bits of vegetation that look edible. They get nutrition from their parental unit as little by little they find their own sources of food. They continue to beg for food for weeks, but take less and less. Eventually they only drop by only to say hi, and become wilder and wilder, more and more reluctant to come close.

This little jay never had the chance to learn how to get along in nature before its person released it. I can’t keep another bird, so this one is going to Mr. Vellner’s class at Nettleton School in Duluth, where it will be loved and where many people will learn first hand why you shouldn’t raise a baby bird unless you know exactly what you’re doing.