For the Birds Radio Program: Blue Jays of Fall 2010
“It’s scary growing so fond of these birds, who face so much danger, and who most assuredly do not return my affection. But every now and then one peeks at me through the window. Life is beautiful, and my Blue Jays are smart and wary and wonderful, just as they should be.”
I’m long going to remember the fall of 2010 as the season of the Blue Jays. I’m not talking about the Toronto Blue Jays, which are in fourth place in their division, a full 14 and a half games out of first place, without a prayer of winning their division this late in the season. No, I’m talking about the Blue Jays that have been filling my yard with brilliant colors and raucous noise for the past three or four weeks. When the first migrants started flooding my yard, they were mostly molting, the birds looking disheveled and even—dare I say it?—unattractive. But their molt progressed quickly, fueled by my backyard’s bountiful cherries, crabapples, and bird feeders, and now every jay is looking picture perfect. I’ve been posting photos of them on my flickr account—if you go to flickr (spelled without the e) .com slash lauraerickson, you can check out my photostream, which includes a lot of my backyard birds feasting on our cherry tree, and some closeups of my Blue Jays peering at me through my open window. I’ve been perched for hours each day at my computer, which right now is next to my upstairs bedroom window. I keep a hummingbird feeder and a tiny plastic feeder attached to the window. Every now and then I crank open the window and call to my chickadees to give them mealworms. Some of the chickadees take them right from my hand, but some are more reticent, so before I close the window, I put a handful of the mealworms into the little feeder. Blue Jays being the observant birds they are have been watching the chickadees feasting on grubs. Unlike several of their relatives, Blue Jays tend to keep their distance from people, but a few have checked out the feeder. There are so many other sources of food that only the more curious or brave individuals have actually alighted in the feeder when I’m sitting right here at the window, but a couple of them have started doing this regularly, grabbing the mealworms quickly and furtively, excited to be stealing them right out from under my nose, with no concept that I might be putting them specifically for birds. Unlike chickadees, Blue Jays are always on red alert so close to a human being. I can’t blame them—it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, with danger all around them. The only ones a Blue Jay truly trusts are other Blue Jays. One morning this week they were squawking more loudly than usual. I cranked open the window to see what was going on. There on the grass was a Sharp-shinned Hawk about to feast on a Blue Jay who was still very much alive. I try not to break up predation scenes. My sympathies are with those jays that I’ve been watching all these many days, but hawks do have to eat, too, but even if I couldn’t take the long view, it makes no sense to interfere. By the time a bird has been caught, its injuries are usually too extensive for it to survive, and the hungry hawk is just going to grab another one anyway. But my opening the window alarmed the hawk, who took off, and the wounded jay fluttered to a nearby tree. I went outside to see if he was okay, but by then he’d flown off. I hope the hawk’s talons hadn’t pierced the jay’s lungs, which are located just under the skin and thin muscle layer of the back. The rest of the jays had also flown off, perhaps to check out their friend. It’s scary growing so fond of these birds, who face so much danger, and who most assuredly do not return my affection. But every now and then one peeks at me through the window. Life is beautiful, and my Blue Jays are smart and wary and wonderful, just as they should be.