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Learning to love blue jays

Learning to love blue jays

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ETW Blue Jay

A blue jay perches on an open tray feeder in Rocky Mount.

The rainy weather of recent days has pretty much stifled my travels into the wild outdoors, but if your home is anything like mine, there are plenty of wild activities in our own backyards. In fact, because of the COVID-19 environment thrust upon us, I have spent quite a bit more time than usual interacting with my backyard furry and feathered friends.

Over this extended summer break, I have found myself gaining a fresh new understanding of my enigmatic and often mystifying friend, the blue jay. In spite of its stunning physical qualities, I have never had much of any fondness for this bird.

I have always found his loud piercing call quite annoying. His forceful, abrupt appearances at feeders that chased away all my sweet songbirds, always seemed hateful and brutish to me. And those long-held rumors of him stealing the eggs from other bird’s nests was simply too much for me to overlook. So, I pretty much hated this guy.

My new understanding of this bird began when I hung an open-tray feeder against one of my trees. Most of my feeders are ornamental closed container fixtures hanging from branches. I enjoy photographing my birds and found that the ornamental feeders often blocked my line of sight and my chance of getting a good, clean shot.

So, I experimented with this open tray and filled it with a heavy mix of sunflower seed and nuts. It created quite the stir, and I indeed found myself with a new bevy of photographic opportunities.

First came the squirrels — and they came in numbers. Personally, I have never had any issues with squirrels eating from my bird feeders. They do consume quite a bit, but I found that that were only feeding at dawn and dusk, and generally for short periods of time. Besides, they are cute and quite photogenic.

Then came the mourning doves. These birds are ground feeders that like to hang around underneath the bird feeder, or so I thought. That was before I hung this open tray feeder. Now they plop their huge rounded bodies down right in the seed, sometimes two at a time, and feast away.

Then the blue jays appeared. Because of their size, blue jays find it difficult to feed on many of the smaller ornamental style feeders so I was only getting infrequent visits by one or two jays at a time. Soon after I hung this new open tray feeder, however, I found myself inundated with a dozen hungry blue jays.

My initial reaction was one of disgust and concern, but as I began to watch them and really study their habits and personalities, I started to see this bird in a whole new light.

First of all, I began to realize that they are actually not the mean and brutish creatures I had long believed them to be. Sure, the smaller birds leave the feeders the moment a jay makes his loud and sudden entry, but I found that those smaller birds gradually reappear and seem to be rather unconcerned about the jay’s presence.

As far as him being the bad boy on the scene, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are a number of other birds that the jay will take a backseat to. One is the red-bellied woodpecker … although from the look of that long-pointed beak I can see why. What really was a surprise was the jay’s reluctance to get in the way of the mourning doves, a bird that always seemed to have a passive personality.

Now I will admit that I still find the blue jay’s loud piercing call quite annoying. As I took more time to study him though, I have become fascinated with the large and unique library of other sounds and songs that come from this bird.

Now granted, you won’t find a blue jay perched atop a tree at dawn imparting a sweet, melodious song as do other passerines. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have his own unique way of singing.

According to “All About Birds,” “The blue jay vocalization most often considered a song is the ‘whisper song,’ a soft, quiet conglomeration of clicks, chucks, whirrs, whines, liquid notes, and elements of other calls; a singing bout may last longer than two minutes.”

The one I love the most is the “liquid note” sounds that he makes. It’s one of the coolest birds sounds I have ever heard, and it always makes me smile when I hear it. Experts also will tell you that the blue jay is well versed in mimicry also. He has been known to mimic the sounds of crows, hawks and most surprisingly, even people.

And finally I had to deal with the egg robbing issue. Ever since James Audubon decided to paint jays stealing eggs from a nest, they have been getting a bad rap. The truth is, they have been known to take other birds’ eggs.

Experts who have studied this habit will tell you however that it is more a rare, not common occurrence. In an extensive study of blue jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. It is also worth noting that the jays that do steal eggs do not eat them, but feed them to their young providing extra protein.

Besides, as someone who regularly enjoys scrambled eggs each morning, who am I to judge?

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