For the Birds Radio Program: Blue Moon: The Start of National Blue Jay Awareness Month
This month is an unusual one because we have two full moons—one on December 2 and one on New Year’s Eve. Calendar months with two full moons don’t happen very often, and since 1946, the second full moon has often been referred to as a blue moon. Back in May 1988, I declared any month with a blue moon to be “National Blue Jay Awareness Month.”
Back then, my father-in-law and I had a fun little ongoing debate about the merits of Blue Jays. He found them annoying when they flew into his bird feeders, scaring off all the other birds. Blue Jays do seem to like that momentary feeling of being in command, though really, most of them are pretty inoffensive at feeders. It’s the flying in that seems to scare birds, I think because the jay’s relatively short, rounded wings and long, narrow tail make it look similar enough to a Sharp-shinned Hawk that birds don’t dare take time to check out field marks,, even though very few Blue Jays show any aggression at all toward other birds at feeders. Some jays imitate hawk calls before flying in—I think they enjoy the trickery even more than they enjoy having the feeders to themselves for a few moments. As soon as the jay starts feeding and the other birds realize it’s just a Blue Jay, they return. I think my father-in-law realized that, and I know he got a huge kick out of teasing me about those “nasty jays” as much as I got a kick out of defending them. On “For the Birds,” I referred to him as president of the Port Wing Blue Jay Haters Association—one year for Christmas my husband and I made him a sign showing a bright blue jay with a red circle and slash across it.
My father-in-law also disliked jays for taking so much birdseed. Port Wing is an idyllic place for birds and birders alike, along Lake Superior’s South Shore, and his feeding station was amazingly full of birds, but expensive to keep up. I can understand how frustrating it would be to have his long tray feeder filled on both sides with Blue Jays sitting shoulder-to-shoulder pigging out. I always loved watching them—migrants passing through would be sitting there side by side, using his feeders as a big all-you-can-eat restaurant. The local jays often used the feeders as their personal grocery stores, bringing along their own bags in the form of their gular pouch—an extendable throat pouch that works for jay in the same way that chipmunk cheeks work for them. My poor father-in-law would watch those throats swelling as the jays stuffed them full of seeds,. Then the jays flew off to hide their booty in various places and came right back to stuff their throats again.
If Blue Jay ways at the bird feeder weren’t bad enough, my father-in-law hated them for raiding bird nests for eggs and nestlings. I’ve only witnessed this actually happening a few times—and each time I saw it, the adult jay carried the plunder back to feed his incubating mate or his nestlings. As a mother who fed my own children eggs and chicken, I figured I wasn’t one to criticize. At the time, I usually picked up my groceries at our local grocery store, and figured even if jays had credit cards or cash and could trip the electric door openers, they’d be reluctant to go inside anything called Red Owl, so I gave them a pass on their plunder.
The back-and-forth about all this was a fun way to engage with my father-in-law, and cemented my affection for Blue Jays. And jays have a great deal of ecological, historical, and cultural importance as well. They’ve got charisma up the wazoo, too. I miss my father-in-law whenever I see Blue Jays. Even if he disapproved of the whole concept of National Blue Jay Awareness Month, I could console him with the reminder that it only happens once in a blue moon.