For the Birds Radio Program: Blue Moon
Laura is calling this the start of National Blue Jay Awareness Month
Once in a blue moon a full moon comes along that we can’t be sure is a blue moon. Since 1946 some people have defined a blue moon as the second full moon occurring in a calendar month. This year October had a full moon at the beginning of the month, but the precise moment when the Halloween full moon happened was a few minutes before midnight, here in the Central Standard Time Zone. If we’d have still been on daylight savings time the full moon would have occurred after midnight. It did occur after midnight for people living in the East, and also after midnight for those on Greenwich mean time, which is why the moon calendar I consulted at the beginning of the year said it was November, not October, that had a blue moon this year.
So even though it was October with the blue moon in the Midwest, I’ve decided to make November National Blue Jay Awareness Month-something I do once in a blue moon. Celebrating a beautiful and perky bird seems like a cheerful thing to do when other elements of our lives seem so uncertain and sad right now. There’s nothing sad about a Blue Jay. Even when a sharp-shinned hawk plucks one out of a flock during migration, the surviving jays seem more outraged than sad, holding what seems like an Irish wake that can last for over a half an hour, all the jays squawking and yelling, perhaps telling stories about their fallen comrade, perhaps telling stories about their own close shaves with death, perhaps simply trying to figure out where other sharp-shinned hawks are to avoid a repeat incident. Once their stories are ended, the jays pick up their lives where they left off, heading out again on their migration.
Some people dislike blue jays because they steal baby robins and other nestlings during the breeding season. Nasty as this is, it’s absolutely necessary from a parent jay’s point of view because every nestful of five baby jays requires a lot of animal protein to grow and thrive. Once the babies have fledged, their diet becomes 88% vegetal, and most of the animal protein they will eat for the remainder of their lives coming from insects.
Jays are noisy, alerting each other and other species to any dangers they may notice. It’s just their version of CNN-the Corvid News Network-and other birds are always tuned to this wonderfully helpful news service, but some people find it annoying. Unlike our own CNN, you can’t turn down the volume or switch channels on a blue jay. But also unlike our own CNN, jays report things exactly as they see them, and when they don’t have real news to report, they know it’s time to shut up.
Jays may be loud and conspicuous, but they’re not into PR, so once in a blue moon I take over that job and spend a month celebrating them. This year there’ll be some sad news on the Blue Jay front-a lot of them have died from West Nile Virus since our last blue moon. But a Blue Jay features prominently in a new movie, and their jolly ways are a constant in an inconstant world. Blue Jays don’t let even the grimmest news and looming dangers hold them down.
These vital, wild-alive birds grab all the gusto they can get as long as they can get it, acknowledge their losses and move on. Blue jays fill our world with beauty and sound and a great deal of fun and joy, and now seems like a good time to pause and take notice of them.