11 months ago
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Let me introduce you to the loves of my life...
Bold, beautiful, brash... curious, funny, affectionate, feisty; I can relate to them well. I sometimes think of them as the "bikers of the bird world". They travel in gangs, are quite verbal with their every thought... often letting loose with a series of outraged, indignant squawks if spying a marauding cat or other predator. Being songbirds, they also do sing, although you must listen to them carefully to determine that it is indeed a song rather than a conversation. Jays are sometimes referred to as marauders themselves, as they will eat the eggs of other birds. They are opportunistic, never passing up the chance to get a free meal. My first encounter with a scrubjay was when I was 9 years old. As I was eating my lunch on the construction site of our family's new house in Malibu Canyon, CA, a jay swooped boldly out of the surrounding brush, grabbed my entire peanut butter & jelly sandwich out of my hand and flew away with it. I was enthralled... having never seen such a beautiful bird before. It was love at first sight, and my ongoing affair with them continues to thrive.
In 1985, after moving to the San Francisco bay area, I became the species manager for the jays at the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital, building an aviary in my yard and caring for jays of all kinds, sizes and ages. This included the little naked pinkies which have a feeding schedule of every 15 minutes, on up to the fully feathered and self feeding size, as well as injured or cat-caught adults.
Scrub jays are very intelligent. They store and cache their food, which, since they are omniverous, just about covers all the food groups! They will pick up and hide peanuts all day, ritualistically picking up & dropping each one, measuring its size to be sure to pick the biggest one before flying off to stash it. At home each day if I'm not up bright and early to put out their breakfast, I hear a huge scolding clamor, "Where's our peanuts?"
I'm also delighted to have the Stellars jays grace my yard. They are generally more shy than the Scrub jays, and prefer the conifers to the oak trees. Stellars are just as much into peanuts as the Scrubs, and will stuff as many as 3 whole peanuts down their gullet before flying off to hide them.
I always think of Bart Simpson when I see the topknot of feathers on their head. Their voices are harsh, but they also have a whole assortment of sounds they can make, ranging from the keening cry of a hawk to the quizzical trill of interest.
All of the Corvids (Jays, Ravens, Crows and Magpies) mate for life.
The babies are impossible to ignore, with their wide baby mouths open, wings fluttering wildly in an attempt to be fed.
They add much joy to my life.