Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Underappreciated Blue Jays “Grace” Feeders
January 25, 2020
By Steve Grinley
Many mornings, Margo puts out some peanuts for the blue jays. Usually the titmice and nuthatches are nearby and they come and take a peanut and consume it elsewhere. But then we hear the cry of the blue jays, birds scramble temporarily, and the jays come down and usually gulp down a few peanuts before they leave. Blue jays still are one of my favorites, as their beautiful colors of blue and purple still fascinate me. They were the first ‘feeder bird” that found my feeders growing up and I’ll share that story with you again:
When I first started birding, I decided to build a bird feeder to try to attract some birds to our urban Newton yard. I found a piece of plywood and nailed four sides to it to make a functional, but not-too-pretty platform feeder. I mounted it on a pole outside the bathroom window, because it was the only window on the first level facing the quieter back of the house (and out of sight of the neighbors). I filled the platform with striped sunflower seed, which was the popular bird seed back then.
It wasn’t long before I heard a banging at the feeder and I ran to look out the window. There was my first feeder bird – a blue jay – breaking open the sunflower by pounding it on the wood. Since the feeder was only a few feet from the window, I could easily see the beautiful multiple hues of blue in the blue jay’s wings and tail, contrasting with its white feathers and its black necklace. A handsome bird, I thought. Since that time, I have had a special appreciation of blue jays and their intricate pattern of colors.
Some people view blue jays as the bullies of the feeding stations. Their loud screams when they arrive cause other birds to scatter. But the other birds soon return and will often feed along side the blue jays. Doug Chickering of Groveland, who graciously filled in for me the past couple of weeks while I was away on vacation, has some kind words for blue jays as well:
“Familiarity breeds contempt” the old adage goes. This may be a fairly severe observation. If not contempt, familiarity can breed a certain lack of appreciation. I can recall when my brother and sister-in-law from California were visiting that were delighted at the Cardinals at our feeder. I was a little amused. Cardinals are a nice bird, but so common now that they tend to vanish into the crowd of birds that scramble and squabble at our bird feeders on a winters day.
“Another bird that my brother and his wife saw here and were impressed with was the Blue Jay. Later after he had returned to his home he called me up specially to tell me that his local bird group was heading over to Point Reyes or some such place because there had been a Blue Jay reported there. Blue Jays hardly ever play such a prominent role in our birding. This morning was a little different.
“Today (we) watched Blue Jays come to her yard in such a fashion as to catch our attention. We were eating breakfast and watching the growing activity at our feeders when a Blue Jay made his usual boorish entrance shouting “thief, thief”, and chasing everyone else off before taking his place on the seed log seed log. I was a little miffed because that seed log is a favorite of the Carolina Wren that visits daily. (We) cherish our Carolina Wrens. Who does this clown think he is?
“Then the Jay was followed by another, then another, and then the yard was full of Blue Jays. The arrived in cluster and perched in the Euonymus bush, scattering the House Sparrows. They perched up in the crab apple tree and the dogwood and even in the huge bare nut tree and oak that framed the top of the back of the yard. There seemed to be Blue Jays everywhere. More Blue Jays than I had ever seen before with the likely exception of a particular day in May. That May day was one of those great fallout days. Along with the strings of Warblers and other migrants flying in from the ocean, there were discrete flocks of Blue Jays; moving north. We probably saw a hundred or so Blue Jays that morning.
“This morning, deep in the grasp of winter, we didn’t have as many as that May morning but still the numbers were impressive. They were very active, flying back and forth so they were hard to count. I managed to count thirty of them, and I am sure that is a low figure. They stayed a while; milling around, setting up a commotion and then moved on. A few stayed and allowed me to scrutinize them more closely, now that they had taken my attention. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful bird that Blue Jay. It’s almost a shame they are so common.”