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.

24 comments:

Jenn Jilks said...

They are common more on forest edges, maybe the river's edge is not good?
Ours eat sunflower seeds and peanuts in the shell - well, they take them out of the shell and hide them.

Then the squirrels find them - but that is another story. We love our jays, too. Glad to send you some!

Actually, they disappear around now and return in winter.
Such mysteries. We have the mergansers, while they wait for colder waters to thaw and then move on north. All are beautiful and amazing to watch.

thanks for the interesting posts.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

I suspect you're right about the problem being the river. The neighbor up the hill I mentioned is about 100 yards away—and away from the river. Yet I've seen plenty of jays in the woods along streams I've canoed or lakeshores when I been fishing from a boat. Tiz a mystery.

You know, I'm not sure that any wildlife—bird, mammal, reptile, bug, whatever—is uninteresting when you really take the time to watch and study its habits and quirks. The more things I watch, the more I learn and want to learn. Nature and the seasonal turns are absolutely fascinating.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a beautiful looking bird - the markings are like chequered fabric!

Do they really gang up on hawks?

I think it's the rumour started by the herons ...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

I'd think any painter ought to adore their blues…cobalt, turquoise, azure, indigo, cerulean; the blues cover every shade.

Yes, they will gang up on hawks, dive-bombing at them, screaming and squawking like crazy. I've seen them do the same thing to owls and snakes, cats…whatever they decide needs a good tormenting at the moment.

Martha said...

We have 2 bird feeders outside our kitchen window. I can watch them while I wash dishes. Even have seen a hawk one winter day jumping down the limbs of the fir tree to get to the birds at the bird feeder. Come to think of it, we, too, don't see very many blue jays. We have Harris Sparrows, 2 types of woodpeckers, the juncos, nuthatchers, etc., and even saw 2 visiting bluebirds on Christmas Day - however, the other birds chased them away from the tree. I don't know why they aren't acoming. And you sure can't ask them.

Jain said...

Hooray for your invasion!

They come and go in waves here and I haven't figured out the when and why. Peanuts are a favorite and I’ve seen them take two at once, half-swallowing the first to make room for the second. They’re so smart and a riot to watch.

You’re so right about no creature being uninteresting. One could easily spend a few lifetimes viewing, investigating, reading, learning, enjoying.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Martha…

Birds are fascinating to watch—and regularly present you with new puzzles and mysteries no matter how much you think you know and understand. (Not that I think I know or understand all that much!)

Several of my feeders are an easy glance out the window from my workroom desk. One sunflower seed feeder hangs right under the eave at the window, in fact. So I see a lot—plus I can look out at the river and see things going on there, too.

I probably saw 20 different birds today, including the big pileated woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and flickers. Plus I watched "my" Canada goose chase away the Cooper's hawk that tried to ambush some sparrow or whatever hiding in the old Christmas tree I've placed as a refuge in the yard.

Sounds to me like you have a nice setup, too. And you're right, when you have questions, you can't ask the birds for the answer—though I'm trying.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Growing up, we always kept feeders and corn out. My father was a dandy birdwatcher, among his other outdoor skills. We had blue jays all the time—though you're right, they do seem to come and go in waves. And I've had blue jays everywhere else I've lived. In droves! So why not here is odd, especially seeing as how they're all over the neighborhood.

But maybe I'm making the grade…you think?

Rowan said...

What a gorgeous bird - such a fabulous colour. I'm not surprised you want them at your feeders - I would too. We have jays which are quite colourful by UK standards but not in the same league as yours, they are woodland birds but I get them occasionally in my garden as I have a lot of trees. I see them a lot in the local woods though. Hope this one stays around for you and maybe brings along some friends.

Jayne said...

It's funny, but I don't have that many either, and I also have a huge variety of birds! Hmmmm... I'll see one on occasion, and very occasionally more than one at a time, but not on any sort of regular basis. I was thinking of getting one of the whole peanut wreath feeders as they seem to like getting the whole thing instead of eating shelled ones.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

They are really handsome birds! So many different shades of blue when you really look close, and such a lovely pattern. And we do take them for granted, as we do so many things and not just birds.

I'm hoping they'll come around more often. Chances are, if one comes I'll have at least a couple more, for blue jays like company.

One of the real signs of autumn hereabouts is hearing the blue jays screaming and scolding amongst the beech trees. They seem louder then, more strident, and I love to hear them calling and see their flashing blues against the bright patchwork leaves now turned scarlet and gold. Both bittersweet—because they mark the season's passing—and yet so filled with life and radiant with beauty.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: I had the same problem with blue jays at the cabin. They were around, but never came to the feeders. What's this whole thing about blue jays being bold? Mine are as shy as fawns.

Then I put out peanuts in the shell. Mysteriously, immediately, the blue jays arrived. And they never left.

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Maybe I'm just being greedy—I have so many lovely and interesting birds around daily…and here I'm lamenting for blue jays. But I do want them at least occasionally because I like them a lot and think they're so colorful. And it seems to me, given the place where I live, that there ought to be blue jays around more often.

Anyway, I'm going to practice the power of positive thinking. I might even resort to peanuts—though I'd have to figure out how to flummox the squirrels…and I'm not really sure these bushy-tailed tree rats aren't smarter than me.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

You know, from your comments and those of other readers, it could be this blue jay mystery is all in my mind. Maybe they are difficult to get started—although that's not been the case at other places where I lived and fed birds.

I part, I meant that blue jays are bold around other birds, and bold around predators and such—which they most certainly are. I've seen them torment great horned owls and red-tailed hawks and cats. And they'll boldly stomp their way into the nest of other birds and nab either nestlings or eggs, in spite of being peck and dive bombed and scolded by the parents.

But they can also be bold toward humans—aggressive. They used to dive bomb us (my parents and I) from time to time at the house where I grew up. And they'd sit on the back porch scolding away through the door screen as we sat around the kitchen table eating breakfast or dinner, though not very often at supper time. (Yeah, to me it is breakfast, dinner, supper; lunch was what you took at a counter in the dime stores. We never had "lunch" at our house! :-))

You know, you folks with your trick of peanut persuasion is becoming more and more likely. Dang it! I'll have to fight off the squirrels and those peanuts are expensive. Grrrrr.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love them Scribe. I expect thatthe story the buzzards put around about you has vanished without trace and so they are beginning to come - aren't they colourful?
How are you doing with feeding those Canada Geese - are they getting tamer by the day?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Well, you can only trust buzzards so far…owls, too, for that matter. But in the end, maybe the prying, curious nature of the blue jays has overcome their reluctance and they want to see for themselves what's going on along the riverbank.

The geese are doing fine. I've fed my gander for the morning and he's quite pleased because it's a beautiful, bright-sun day here, not a cloud in the sky, the river is going down, redolent spring is in the air, his lady goose is on the nest or maybe taking care of hatchlings, the ducks are minding their place, and yesterday, he vanquished the mighty Cooper's hawk. Makes a goose proud, it does.

Richard said...

I like the Blue Jays also. Nice company over the winter. Come spring time, they move on and somehow I feel a little cheated.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Richard…

I know exactly what you mean—I like the way they look against the snow, so bright and blue, like shards from the sky, and I love to watch their antics around the feeder. I'd also miss them when they departed…if I had them around to depart in the first place. But I'm just shunned, like an Amish farmer caught doing the funky boogie with the local floosie at a tavern.

By the way, I think the race of blue jays you have up your way are just a tad larger than the ones we have here. I know the jays I see around Lake Superior are a bit bigger.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

The blue jays abound here in Southeast CT. They don't bother the finches at their feeding station. I have a feeder for the blue jays and others closer to the woods. They all seem to know their place - not unlike when we sit down to a meal, people kinda have their "spot". :-)

I want to say thanks to Jill for mentioning the peanuts in a shell. I have a huge bag and I am going to put some out today. And thank you Grizz for creating a forum where I could learn such things and so much more.

And your photo of that blue jay is stunning. Wow!

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

There are lots of blue jays around here, too…just not at my feeders! But maybe that'll change.

I'm trying to resist the peanut offerings—tempting as it may be—because I know I'll have the devil of a time keeping the squirrels from cleaning them out daily. But if I have to go that route (SIGH!) I will.

The saga continues…

Anonymous said...

We live in TX and I love blue jays also. They eat sunflower seeds but need some work to get the seed open. The cardinals need much less time to get to the inside of the seed. What is the reason for this?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Anonymous…

I suspect it simply the shape of their beaks, the cardinal's being more adapted to opening seeds; blue jays are really more omnivores.

Just a guess, though…

Patty in S.C. said...

I read your site for the first time and felt an affinity for what you were saying. I moved to a house in rural SC and set out 4 birdfeeders. I have plenty of cardinals (at least 10 at a time). One cardinal is the very last bird of the evening. She sits atop the feeder every night and waits until the sun finally sets. I had about 6 blue jays that came calling every day for the last 4 months until last week, now not a one. I miss them. I put peanuts in the shell out for them, but now other than the squirrels (their numbers are down, too)...I have see new birds at the feeders. Like you, I can stand at my kitchen sink and watch them for hours. I have 3 hummingbirds that after they eat the nectar fly straight to where I am watching them and dance in front of me as if to say thank you. I am going to keep hoping the blue jays return, I miss them. Patty

Grizz………… said...

Patty in SC…

I've finally come to the conclusion that blue jays are just wishy-washy…weird, moody, secretive birds that make no sense in their habits—at least to me. It took me several years to get them to come to my feeders—though I had birds aplenty of other species, and the blue jays came regularly to my neighbor's feeders. Then they just started showing up, in numbers! Go figure. Now they haven't been around all summer. They were here last summer, though. Why? I have no idea. Will they be here come fall and winter, or shun me again? I don't know. But I'm no longer concerned…the food's out and they're always welcome.

Speaking of which, I'm glad you found your way here, to Riverdaze and liked what you saw, and I hope you visit often. You, too, are always welcome.