For the Birds Radio Program: George's Blue Jay story

Original Air Date: Nov. 3, 2000 Rerun Dates: Sept. 23, 2014; Dec. 12, 2012; April 16, 2012; Dec. 22, 2010; April 21, 2010; Dec. 24, 2009; Sept. 3, 2009; April 8, 2009; Dec. 29, 2008; Oct. 1, 2008; Sept. 24, 2007; April 13, 2007; Sept. 21, 2006; Sept. 30, 2005; Feb. 3, 2005; Sept. 20, 2004; Oct. 21, 2002

Laura got an email from a Florida man with a Blue Jay problem.

Duration: 4′04″


One of the fun things about being a writer is hearing from readers. Early in November I received an email from a man named George in Florida. The subject heading read, “HELD UP AT BEAK POINT BY A BLUE JAY.” George wrote:

Hi, I hope you can help me. I work in West Palm Beach, Florida, as a service tech for my water treatment company. I was working at a client’s home and had my van windows open and was not paying any attention to what was going on around me. I could hear birds in the area. The client’s little boy came out to play and said, “Hey, mister, there is a bird in your truck.” The bird was right in the driver’s seat cleaning me out. He was taking, one at a time I think, coins from my change holder and flying away with them. He actually got $10 in change before I realized what was going on. He almost managed to get away with a rather large set of keys. He was trying to grab them when I chased him away. He was a persistent thief.

George continues:

The owner says this bird is a family friend that likes shiny things. I hope he didn’t eat the coins. I’m assuming he brought them back to his nest—what do you think?

To top it off he plans on advertising for me as he managed to steal a bunch of my business cards as well. He is probably letting his buddies know where the goods can be found. Can you explain this bird behavior? Thanks, George.

I reassured George that the Blue Jay would absolutely not eat the coins—jays and their relatives in the crow family are attracted to shiny objects, which they hide in tree crevices and other nooks and crannies in their territory, but clearly recognize edible from inedible items. No one understands exactly why they find shiny objects so fascinating, or why they sometimes go to enormous lengths to carry off inedible things that they don’t incorporate into their nests, which jays construct to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Blue Jays like paper for some reason—when I had my education Blue Jay Sneakers, she often picked up little pieces of paper just to drop from ceiling height, I think just to watch them fall. We hope that the people who find George’s business cards don’t shun him for littering.

Blue Jays that have been raised by people usually grow up to be rather brazen. Virtually no genuinely wild jay would repeatedly fly into a van or truck, even with shiny coins sitting on the seat. It’s illegal to keep a Blue Jay, or any other native American bird, as a pet, but sometimes people have no choice but to rescue an orphaned or injured baby. It’s virtually impossible to raise a single baby Blue Jay for release to the wild, unless the people doing it are extraordinarily careful, because jays are so intelligent and adaptable that they naturally adapt to their human family. But fortunately, sometimes when a tame baby jay is given plenty of time to adapt to being outdoors on its own, little by little it becomes wild, or at least wary of unfamiliar people. The jay that stole George’s money might eventually become more wild, but now that it knows what delights George’s van holds, George better start closing his van windows. This time the jay took George to the cleaners metaphorically, but at least it didn’t leave any white spots on his front seat that would have sent George literally to the cleaners.