For the Birds Radio Program: Woody Woodstock the Blue Jay

Original Air Date: Sept. 13, 1989

Update on the little Blue Jay Laura is taking care of. 4:00 Date confirmed

Audio missing


The most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced as a wildlife rehabilitator has been caring for Woody Woodstock. When I got the little fledgling Blue Jay, his skin was so thin and poorly developed that it had split open along his neck. He couldn’t hold up or control his head, and had no sense of balance—he fell over whenever he was set down unless I propped him up with rolled up diapers.

At first I didn’t now what was wrong with him, until I read an article describing organo-phosphate poisoning, and learned that the yard he was found in was sandwiched in among several yards that had been treated with chemical lawn sprays. Woody’s parents had probably fed him contaminated insects, since Blue Jays, as intelligent as they are, haven’t quite figured out how to read those little warning flags. By the time he was found and brought to me, he was also starving.

He was so sick when I got him that all I could do was to hold him, keeping him warm and upright, and feed him every few minutes. It looked pretty hopeless and grim. I didn’t want my children to even look at him, because children get so attached to birds. Of course, that whole first day I was getting pretty attached myself, though I kept telling myself that he was going to die, and I really shouldn’t care so much because I hadn’t known him long enough. But I couldn’t just leave him to die in a cold shoe box, so I stayed up until midnight with him, and then covered him with a diaper when I finally went to bed, certain that when I returned to him in the morning, he’d be dead.

But the next morning he was alive, and actually seemed a little stronger. Over the past two months, he’s gained about 80 percent control over his head and neck. He still can’t balance well, but over the past few weeks he has mastered digging his toes into whatever he’s on, allowing him to sit up by himself for a few seconds, and just yesterday sat up for a full minute and a half. He’s shown steady progress in other things, too. He can eat by himself now if I hold him at his dish, so I no longer have to place the food in his mouth. He’s curious and interested in everything going on around him, which makes for a lot of stimulation in a house with three kids.

But the progress he’s making is a mixed blessing. He’s strong enough to move around now, scooting on the floor by flapping his wings and flailing his legs. But Blue Jay bodies aren’t made to rub against carpets or floors—he’s broken all his tail feathers off, and broken the tops off of and abraided his wing feathers badly. The bend of his right wing has been rubbed raw—I have to treat it with antiseptic every day until new feathers grow back in. Before he gained enough control over his neck to keep his head up, he rubbed all the protective feathers off his eyelids, too, but they’ve finally grown back in.

I’m hoping that by the time he molts next summer he’ll be strong enough to walk, and his new feathers won’t be subjected to this kind of abuse. People who see him wonder why I don’t just put him to sleep, and when I look at him objectively, I wonder, too. He’s expensive to feed and medicate, requires hours of attention every day, and is certainly never going to live a normal life. But he eats with gusto, and takes obvious pride in his small achievements. If God really does care about the fall of a sparrow, how much more He must care about a hurt little Blue Jay. If we humans have such great antipathy for dandelions that we must poison our lawns, bird rehabilitators, and especially little birds, will always bear the true cost.