Jays

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If you watch birds at all, you’ve got to feel conflicted about blue jays.

They’re beautiful. They’re bold and tough. I’ve always enjoyed watching their looping, swooping flight.

They’re also noisy to a fault; calling them aggressive understates the case. They’re opportunists of the first order, and if something weaker gives them an opening — like the towhees that built a nest next to our house last year only to watch a jay raid it and smash the eggs — they exploit it instantly. I tried to chase away the jay last year, but it was a lot better at its business that I was. It’s instinct, I know, not Karl Rove-like calculation, that drives the birds’ behavior (and I apologize to the birds, even if they’re mere beasts, for comparing them in any way to Karl Rove).

This spring, a couple of western scrub jays have built a nest within a couple of feet of the one the towhees abandoned, with prejudice, last year. We can just see the new nest near the top of a potato bush growing along the side of our back porch: just a non-descript bundle of sticks. But a couple of jays have been back and forth from that spot for a good couple weeks. It’s too high to see into, and well enough screened that it was hard to see whether there were any eggs up there.

Yesterday, one of the jays flew over my head to the nest. I could hear some weak little chirping. The new jays were hatched. Today, that chirping is a little louder. Now I find myself rooting for this little clutch of birds, even if they’re going to turn out to be a bunch of heartless (if handsome) marauders.

[The picture: That’s one of the parent scrub jays on our back porch this afternoon, along with genuine salvaged Wrigley Field seats, an extension cord, and other flotsam.]

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2 Replies to “Jays”

  1. We don’t get scrub jays out here, obviously, but we do have straight-up, all-American blue jays which behave much the same way… aggressive, nest robbing, noisy. But at least they’re all NA birds. House sparrows, an exotic species brought from Europe, though smaller, have all the same qualities as jays and are remarkably aggressive. Because they are cavity nesters, they compete with bluebirds and other NA desirables. House sparrows will kill anything and everything they find in a nest box. I actually like blue jays and always enjoy hearing the symphony of “jay” calls from a flock of them as they keep in contact. (And now that I think about it, a species of scrub jay is in Florida.) Sorry to bore, but you brought it on yourself posting about birds.
    K-

  2. I’m somewhat conflicted about them myself. But I think most birds are fairly opportunistic. Mockingbirds certainly take little guff from anyone, and I’ve watched hummingbirds deliberately tantalize cats on various occasions.
    We encourage two scrub jays that have lived near us for a few years now, and they are somewhat fearless of us. One actually posed for me once when I took my digital camera out, and let me get some nice close pictures. But they hide from the crows, cats, and other predators.
    Just the other day my husband watched one eat an earwig, and that’s about all I need to make me want them around. We still have oher birds. Even the seemingly more timid orioles come back each year, and reproduce successfully, so if the scrub jays scare other birds off or even consume eggs or baby birds, there seems to be a balance of the population at work nonetheless, and I haven’t seen the jays increasing in numbers. If we have an overabundance of any birds here, it’s crows.

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