Wednesday, April 15, 2009
BLUE JAY BLUES
You wouldn’t think attracting blue jays to bird feeders might be a problem. Certainly not in southwestern-Ohio. We have blue jays aplenty hereabouts. They’re abundant to the point of prolificacy. Anyone with a bird feeder has blue jays. In fact, I’ve never known any backyard bird feeder to want for blue jays. Usually too many blue jays. Unlike, say, house sparrows or starlings, it doesn’t take multitudes of blue jays to constitute “too many.” Some bird-feeding folk claim any number higher than one is too many blue jays. Quite a few say that number ought to be lowered. When I moved to this riverside cottage, I put out multiple bird feeders stocked with sunflowers seeds. I hung suet cages from the trees. I scattered cracked corn on the ground. The ravenous feathered hordes moved in immediately. Birds aplenty. A typical winter’s-day roll call ranges upwards of 30 species, not counting the river birds such as blue herons, kingfishers, ducks and geese. Spring-through-autumn sees the list expand considerably. I lose the juncos, tree sparrows, and purple finches, but gain warblers, orioles, several replacement sparrows, turkey vultures, and a dozen or two additional birds—likely more, except my birding abilities aren’t exactly stellar, so I doubtless overlook or misidentify various visitors. But for some mysterious reason, the local blue jays—brash, omnivorous feeders though they are—shun me and my varied offerings. Why? Did the buzzards across the stream carry false gossip of an old family recipe for blue jay pie standing ready for procurement of the prime ingredient? Have the owls been whispering their incantations of dark and dastardly intentions waiting to be carried out against trespassing jays? Or was it something the herons began, a rumor that as a fly fisherman I’d expressed the need to stock my fly tying bench with a fresh supply of blue jay feathers for fashioning streamers? Whatever it was, it worked. I never have blue jays. My neighbor who lives in the big house at the top of the hill has blue jays. I often hear them carrying on or see them in the tops of the big sycamores in her yard. But they don’t deign to come down here. Okay…the photo above obviously indicates things have changed. That stump is in my side yard. I scatter a bit of cracked corn upon it daily. And the shot was taken today. So that “never” should now actually read “seldom.” Yet I still don’t know the why of the matter, or what changed. The first year here—from June, when I moved in, through December—I saw not a single blue jay in the yard or around the feeders. Not one! Year two came and one bright February morning two jays appeared, squawking and dabbing at the corn and sunflower seeds. I almost choked on my breakfast oatmeal. But that proved their only appearance for the year. Last year the reluctant jays favored me with three visits—once in late-winter, and twice during the fall. This year, I’m already up to a half-dozen visits! Either they’re seriously scouting me for full club membership, or else they’ve freed up the occasional moment to enjoy a bit of comic relief—stopping by the snack stump and watching the guy at the window stare openmouthed in disbelief. I wouldn’t put such pranks beyond them. Blue jays are notorious jeering jesters. Blue jays are corvids, members of the same family as ravens and crows. They can make a large variety of sounds, mimicking other birds, even machinery or human speech. They mob together and gang up on other birds such as hawks and owls. They’re noisy, belligerent, adaptable, aggressive, and sneaky. That’s why when I’ve mentioned my blue jay dearth to others, I’ve regularly been told to count my blessings. Blue jays have, shall we say, a reputation. The trouble is, I like ‘em. I like their blue-cloaked looks, their noisy habits, their cocky attitude. And I want them to like me—or at least my yard and free eats. So just in case there’s a blue jay among my lurking readers, let me say I hope you and your clan will start dropping by regularly. I promise I’ll speak to the Canada goose, tell him not to chase you off. And I’ll make sure there’s plenty of food available. The welcome mat is out.