For the Birds Radio Program: Baby Jays

Original Air Date: Aug. 12, 1991

What happens when 75 Brownie Girl Scouts meet 2 baby Blue Jays? 3:21 date confirmed

Audio missing


When I received baby Blue Jays several weeks ago, I had every expectation of raising them until they could make it on their own. Even when a local Merlin took a crow I’d been raising and started hanging around my yard in hopes of other easy pickin’s, I knew that dangers are part of every wild bird’s life. That’s why jays have five babies at a time, often twice a year [NEVER twice a year!], and yet the population of Blue Jays stays pretty much the same. Of course, letting your babies face the dangers of adolescence and early adulthood is never easy, and I sure was attached to these little guys, but my state and federal permits only allow me to keep birds for ninety days, and I’m required by law to set every releasable bird free.

But a couple of weeks ago, I took Jake and Sneakers to Brownie day camp. I was in a sunny but closed room at the Girl Scout camp with thirty little girls and their moms and baby brothers and scout leaders, and my jays in a box. When I opened the top and let the jays loose, they flew around the room a couple of times, and then started visiting with the girls.

Everyone had a chance to pet and hold them, and the girls with the most colorful ponytail holders or fingernail polish even got to feel the jays tapping their beaks on their heads or fingers. I held Jake on my finger to show the girls the difference between the contour feathers of the body and the flight feathers. I was explaining that body feathers also serve as a snow suit in the winter, and as if he could understand, Jake took that moment to fluff out his feathers. These cooperative little jays held everyone spellbound, and then managed an identical encore performance for the 35 girls in the second group. Everyone learned a little about how birds and people are different —they got to see first hand that jays are curious about human nostrils, possibly because their own nostrils are covered with feathers. The jays are also very interested in teeth—do they think we are holding seeds or shiny toys in our mouths? People don’t get a lot of opportunities to see wild birds close up, much less to hold them, and I started to think that my two little Blue Jays might make darned good education birds.

Getting state and federal permits to keep protected birds for educational purposes is not easy. I have to fill out an extensive form and pay a $25 filing fee for the federal permit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with the protection of all native migratory birds, and the original spark that ignited this mission was the excessive taking of birds by the millinery and pet trades. Wild birds deserve more in life than to be displayed on hats or kept in cages to amuse acquisitive people. Now, to keep a wild bird, I have to provide evidence that by doing so I will be providing a real benefit to the Blue Jay resource, and I also have to show that my little jays will be given a happy life under my care. Fortunately, I have a house full of legos and shiny buttons and a noisy bell and a toilet paper tube that the jays use for their own version of log rolling—what more proof could they want?