For the Birds Radio Program: Blue Moon 2007
There are thousands of lovely birds on this planet, and although Laura would feel bereft losing any of them, the world would be dark and humorless indeed without Blue Jays. She missed “National Blue Jay Awareness Month” in May because she hadn’t noticed that it had a Blue Moon here in America (the Blue Moon fell after midnight Greenwich time). But she’ll make today a special Blue Jay Awareness Day.
Far more rarely than once in a blue moon, the same blue moon may occur in different months. Last month’s blue moon for the United States turned out to be this month’s blue moon in Europe, because the full moon fell before midnight June first in the US, but after midnight in Europe. And sadly, last year when I was looking up possible blue moons for 2007, I used a website that listed the dates of full moons using Greenwich Mean Time, so I thought June was going to be the month in 2007 with the blue moon when it was actually May. Usually I name months with a blue moon National Blue Jay Awareness Months, but this time I guess I missed it, at least here in the United States. But since last month should have been National Blue Jay Awareness Month, and this month is as far as the UK is concerned, I guess I do need to do at least one program about Mark Twain’s favorite bird—the one about whom he wrote the charming short story, “Baker’s Blue Jay Yarn,” because the Blue Jay really is nature’s perfect bird—that is, unless you hate it. Blue Jays are beautiful and intelligent—they’d be one of the most sought-after of all species if they were rarer. Many researchers have focused on them, but because it is extremely difficult to capture, mark, and observe a high percentage of Blue Jays at one locality, ornithologists don’t have a very good understanding of the breeding biology, demography, and sociality of this fascinating and beautiful species. But we do know some things for sure, based on a long-term study of them at the Archbold Biological Station in Florida. Their basic social units are monogamous pairs. Each pair remains in the same limited area throughout the year. These pairs do not defend territories in any classical sense, but defend the nest site from individuals that come too close; Blue Jays don’t breed cooperatively in the way that Florida Scrub-Jays do, but seem to form loosely organized neighborhood flocks to conduct group social displays and to mob predators and intruders.
When my children were small and I was home every day as a stay-at-home mother, a neighborhood pair of jays flew in whenever I fed peanuts to my backyard squirrels. They’d follow the squirrels about and dig up the peanuts as quickly as the squirrels could hide them. And then, one golden day, the jays suddenly decided to skip the middle-man and come directly to me for the peanuts. One would fly in and take them right off my hand. The other one was more skittish—I’d leave the peanuts on the porch railing and that one would fly in and grab them. This all started right when my daughter Katie was 8 months old, just learning to stand up. She loved seeing these big, beautiful, colorful birds fly in, and quickly learned to crawl to the living room window and pull herself up to stand and look out when I’d ask her is she wanted to see the Blue Jays. That’s how it came to be that her second word, after mama, was boo jay.
Lots of people dislike jays—they feed their own babies the eggs and nestlings from other species’ nests, and are rather squawky and loud. But since I’ve yet to see a blue jay raid a nest to feed itself—adult jays eat much more vegetal than animal matter, and seem to raid nests virtually always just because they have hungry mouths to feed—I give them a pass on that. And their squawkiness is the very quality that makes other birds so appreciate them—they give a whole neighborhood warning when a hawk, snake, cat, or other danger enters the scene. Not much on this little planet concentrates so very much beauty and intelligence in just 3-ounces. Even though I’ve missed the Blue Moon, here’s to the kind of loveliness we’re lucky to be able to take for granted. There are thousands of lovely birds on this planet, and although I’d feel bereft losing any of them, the world would be dark and humorless indeed without Blue Jays.