In Defense of Blue Jays by Miriam L. Rowell (President of The Cape Cod Bird Club)

“. .. steel cold scream of a jay, unmelted, that never flows into a song, sort of winter trumpet screaming cold; hard, tense, frozen music, like the winter sky itself .. .” H. Thoreau.

The terrace sits raw and stark in the winter light, its rim of russian olive and beach plum hunch their bare branches against the cold, all somber-hued and drab. Even the ocean is a sullen grey, sulking under heavy clouds.

Then, with a clarion, ringing cry, comes one of winter’s glories, as the bare boughs, etched dark against the sky, suddenly explode into a bush burning with beauty, blossomed with brilliant, coruscating, vivid blue jays.

Loud raucous voices swell as they sight the table set with sunflower seed, suet, and doughnuts, and they rush it, lustily gobbling, elbowing each other, excitedly brawling with vigor and enjoyment, each intent on satisfying his own hunger.

This boldly beautiful bird is accused of many sins; greed, harrassment and predation. But perhaps his greatest sin is, he is very common.

Because he is so common, we don’t really see him until he is gone, and then we wonder at his absence. That is why there was concern this winter throughout the Northeast when winter found many areas without jays, or with greatly reduced populations. Were they ill? Had they migrated? Nobody knows for sure exactly what happened or why. Enormous flights of jays were seen on the Outer Banks and in Florida down to the Keys; larger flocks appeared on the Gulf coast and spilled along it into Texas. What had caused this movement of birds from their normal wintering habitat? Were they birds from the Northeast, or were they populations displaced by the northeastern birds moving into their territory?

What caused them to move? Will they return? Only time and study will give us a clue.

The blue jay’s lusty appetite gives him a reputation for greed, though it is unearned, for he never claims the feeder as his own after he has eaten his fill. The smaller birds never scorn the crumbs from his table, and he has learned he can’t get into their feeder. He never lays claim to food just for the joy of possession, only for his loud and gusty enjoyment of eating it. And it takes a large amount of food to sustain such an exuberant, boisterous fellow.

He sounds the alarm for all. No hawk can raid the feeder when he is near. No prowling cats escape his eye. And his habit of harrying dozing owls is an aid to birders seeking the elusive creatures. He thrives on excitement and noise, creating alarms and diversions wherever he goes.

But what of his other life, his summer life, his private life?

It is quiet and secret, full of soft murmuring song and private courtship. And, except in areas where he nests near man, after his almost silent wooing, he is evasively secretive of nest, slinking soft as a shadow to feed his brooding mate. A careful parent, he shares in the feeding and raising of his young until they are grown and return to flock together with other jays. There is one charge of which he cannot be cleared. He attacks other bird’s nests and robs them. Even the fact that he also enjoys a meal of mice doesn’t excuplate his sin. But it is a charge that can only have meaning within human values, and we cannot judge him thus. Just as his intense, iridescent blue isn’t in the feather, but is a reflection of blue light, so is his reputation a reflection of us and our values, rather than what he is: a most beautiful bird, handsome and vigorous, living in his niche in balance with his world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: