For the Birds Radio Program: Ludwig the Blue Jay Part II
As National Blue Jay Awareness Month draws to a close this week, I’ve been asked to tell the “rest of the story” about the baby Blue Jay I rescued from the mouth of a golden retriever back in 1979—the bird that made me fall in love with Blue Jays.
Sneakers the Blue Jay
Riding home from the park after I rescued him, I held in my hands a warm, beautiful little jay who looked at me with bright, trusting eyes; I was scared to death of screwing up.
The first thing I did when I got home was to call a friend of mine who worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He’d raised a baby magpie many years before, and was a treasure trove of valuable information about diet and care. I was a teacher and still had a few days of school to go, so I brought the bird with me every day, carrying him in a shoebox on the bus. I fed him every 15 minutes, whether I was in the middle of a lesson or at recess. The kids in my classes were as charmed as I, and that meant that 60 more people were invested in his survival, too.
Baby Blue Jay
The Blue Jay never made any sounds at all for the first three or four weeks. I thought he was deaf so I named him Ludwig. But on the last day of school, he proved beyond a doubt that he could hear perfectly well. I brought home a box with all my desk stuff, including an orange bell that I rang when I wanted the kids to settle down. It was the kind of bell with a button on top. As I was putting things away in our apartment, Ludwig looked curiously at it, so I pressed the button and it rang out. He instantly hopped up and pushed the button with his beak, but he was very little, so his breast pressed against the bell, dampening the sound. When he stepped back, I rang the bell again and his crest popped up and he hopped up to try it again, but again the sound was dull. I showed him how it worked a few more times, but then Russ and I went to another room to watch TV. Maybe 20 minutes or a half hour later, we heard a clear “Ding!” A few seconds later, we heard another “Ding!” and then a “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!” I went running in to see Ludwig hitting the button over and over as he hovered, wings beating furiously, above it. He seemed very pleased with himself, and especially pleased that we had witnessed his accomplishment. After that, he pretty much lost interest in the bell. I kept it on the table, and every now and then he’d notice it and fly up to ring it once or twice, but he had moved onward and upward.
I raised this one in the 1990s.
There are no evolutionary advantages whatsoever conferred on a bird for mastering bell ringing. But curiosity, tenaciousness, figuring out cause and effect, and keen observational skills are excellent qualities for an opportunistic omnivore, be it a Blue Jay or a human being. The longer and more closely that I observed Ludwig, the more I grew to understand that Blue Jays exemplify the very best of what an intelligent, sociable species can be.