Sunday, June 3, 2012

There's More to a Blue Jay

Early yesterday afternoon,
after the sun had come out and dried the rain puddles,
I noticed a great commotion in the bird bath
that sits under an oak tree at the edge of the moss garden.
A blur of blue repeatedly agitated the water, sending it flying in all directions.
It seems a blue jay was taking a bath,
but this jay wasn't merely dipping a wing or a claw into the water;
no, this blue jay was a most vigorous bather.

I think that blue jays are one of the most physically appealing backyard birds.
One reason is their hue of deep ultramarine blue
 and the contrasting black bridle, black bars on their wings and tail,
and their peaked crest that looks like a bishop's miter.

But even more than featherly vestments,
 the call of the blue jay is what distinguishes it from other birds.
A jay's voice is not gentle or unassuming.
Not  lyrical.
The blue jays have too much bravado to emit a tiny tweet or chirp.
They fuss. They argue. They insult.
Mark Twain described their locquaciousness  this way in his short story
"What Stumped the Blue Jays":

whatever a blue jay feels, he can put into language. ...
rattling out-and-out book-talk--and bristling with metaphor too. ...
And as for command of the language,
why you never see a blue jay get stuck for a word.

Listen for yourself:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a nice tabbed web site
that includes some blue jay facts,
some brief audio links of the blue jay's calls, and a video:

I thought it was interesting that the blue jays' love of acorns
is credited with the proliferation of oak trees.
I can't say I really ever noticed a blue jay eating acorns.
But I know they do have a voracious appetite for peanuts.
Put peanuts out in a feeder and hurry away,
for there will be an immediate and intense gathering of jays.

For all the jay's enthusiasm and bluster,
he does save a few moments for quiet reflection:

As Twain says, a blue jay has
 "more moods and different kinds of feelings than other creatures."
So it would seem.

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