Return of the Scrub Jays (who never left!)

scrub jay parent

Shhhh. This is kind of a secret. I almost never tell anyone this. I think only one or two of my neighbors know. But I’m sure you won’t tell. I’m rather bonded to a group of scrubjays. I think it’s dreadful that scrubjays don’t have the word “blue” in their name, don’t you? So maybe I could say I’m bonded to a family of blue scrubjays. There. That would make me feel a lot better. They need to be fully honored. I’m quite close to them, as they would tell you.

It all started three years ago, and, in fact, my very first post on Plant Whatever Brings You Joy was about these very birds, so some of you might actually recall that that first year I came here they (blessedly) built a nest just outside my kitchen window, which my daughter noticed and brought to my attention. One of the things I never mentioned, that in retrospect was one of the very most endearing things that happened that year, was that one of the parents came back after the babies were fully fledged and cleaned out the nest. How dear is that?

The next year for some divine reason I was standing at that very kitchen window when a pair of them returned and I could actually see that one was animatedly showing the other the old nest and was picking at it, clearly attempting a good sales job on where they might start another family. The idea, I learned, was rejected, and I noticed instead that they wisely chose a thicker tree in the back yard which provided not only better protection in terms of the nest not being as readily seen by predators (think meow–but not Maine Coon or Siamese meow, oh, NO!) but also meant that fledgling babies landing on the ground prior to learning to fly would most likely land on this side of the fence, not in the alley. No guarantee, mind you, but much more likely. And there are so many places to hide once in the back yard! The first year, much to my horror, while the babies fledged on this side of the fence, they were immediately exposed to the front street, as they did not have the safety of the big back yard. Indeed, I came out and found a young woman excitedly talking on her cell to a friend, “You won’t believe what I found! There’s a baby bird on the sidewalk!” Enter at rapid speed your trusty blogger, scoop up baby in hands and rush him back to the side of the house. Put up puppy fencing and cover with blankets and hope for the best. Oh, it was hysteria, let me tell you.

So last year it was SOOO much better. I only saw one bright-eyed baby on the ground. Oh, the innocence was enough to take your breath away. And did. And I ran in the house for my camera but he was instantly gone. I can only hope that had a happy ending.

And that brings us to May 2008. I knew they’d chosen that same thick tree. And, oh, dear readers, I have to confess and apologize that in spite of my best efforts, you will have to apply your own imaginations as my photos of this event are, well, lacking. Yes, they are. However with the slightest efforts of your most creative minds, you will follow along and get the picture, so to speak. Right? I thought so. Thank you for your forbearance.

So here is the tree they chose for the nest the last two years:

tree w/ nest

I don’t even think it is a tree, do you? I think it’s a bush gone wild. Does anyone know what it is?

Anyway, believe it or not, in March I saw a blue scrubjay in the nest outside the kitchen window with a mate in tow, trying the sales job again, and again the wisdom of the second mate won out for the second time. Whew! In fact the nest was so hidden this time I missed almost all of the activity until suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of fledglings begging for food back in the quince bushes way in the back of the garden. Animal alert. The doggies were clearly informed that the scrubjays reigned for at least a week and all their outdoor activities were going to have to be monitored closely until I knew the babies had their wings developed. I alerted the neighbors to please watch their Jack Russell terriers and their cats. They respectfully agreed. (They are getting used to my ways at last.)

Imagine my horror when I caught a grey squirrel trying his best to eat one of the babies! A mama jay was squawking loudly, rushing at him, warning him to stay away. I engaged Conner to bark at the squirrel, who happily obliged and after being harrassed for a couple of loud and harrowing minutes by an angry mother jay, an alarmed blonde and an obliging Border Collie he finally surrendered and left the scene.

It’s tough being a fledgling, I’ll tell you.

Next day I found one of them back in the fig tree looking stronger than I might have expected. I watched, enchanted. One of the parents spotted me and half heartedly sounded an alarm, but these birds know me well and trust me and her alarms were soon interrupted by a stash of ants she found climbing a branch, which she began to nibble, only to sound a call once or twice just to keep me on my toes that she was watching. Yes, I know. I watched the baby for awhile, comforting myself that flying looked intact.
scrubjay fledgling

In the days that followed I found two in the fig tree and simultaneously heard a third being fed in the tree that holds their old nest. Three babies is a good thing. This very much warmed my heart.

Knowing that the parents have so many mouths to feed I resumed putting peanuts on the sidewalk next to the camelia tree where they had their original nest. It’s Our Spot, and they know it. If I whistle for them (we have a special call) they land on the fence to see if there are peanuts. I did this yesterday, and sure enough, both parents came almost immediately. They will teach their offspring about this little feeding ground and the cycle of life and love will continue.
Scrub jay parents

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xox

28 Responses to “Return of the Scrub Jays (who never left!)”

  1. Wow. What a great story!! Thanks for all the reminders too…. it‘s all the richer for the context. I love it when a person dares to interact with the animal kingdom, especially when it brings the desired result – true interspecies communication!!! I can imagine some short years from now, that you will literally have generations of blue scrubjays who know your whistle and come for peanuts. Lucky birds, to have found your side of the fence. Bravo, K.!

  2. Your jays are beautiful and what welcome guests! The story makes them all the more appealing. Well done!

  3. Hi, Pamela! Thanks. Yeah, they are my secret babies. I just love them. And, yes, interspecies communication is very very special. :) Love, Kathryn

  4. Nancy, welcome! Thank you so much for visiting today and learning about my friends! Kathryn xox

  5. Nice post :)

  6. Thanks, Marie! Do you have blue scrubjays in Norway?? Kathryn

  7. Great post, Kathryn!!! Love those scrub jays. Wish we had ‘em here in PA!!!

  8. Thanks, Our Friend Ben, for visiting today! Glad you enjoyed the post. I have not researched where else the scrubjays live, but I do think they are formally called Western Scrub Jay (that would be a clue) but I also do believe when I did my original research they were in Florida as well–but maybe those were just cousins. Can’t recall right now. I will look it up! Kathryn

  9. Lovely post, mom!
    I remember discovering that nest! :-)
    They’re so sweet, as is the connection you’ve made with them.
    Love you,
    Antonia

  10. Hi, Baby Girl! Yes, that was a special day when you found them! Good morning to you! Love, Mom xoxo

  11. What a charming story. Isn’t it wonderful to have something so enchanting going on right outside your window?

  12. Hi, Sheila–Yes, charming and enchanting and making all the difference in the world. :) Kathryn xox

  13. I’d never come across scrub jays before – our European jays are quite different. Do keep posting onhow the family develops!

  14. Hi, Susan, thank you for bringing to my full attention that probably most readers don’t have scrubjays in their environ, and for making me realize I would miss them if I left California, just as I miss the constant backdrop of the doves in the desert and the desert wren’s song. Sigh. Nostalgia visits. And a reminder to love fully what we have at the moment. Thanks for visiting and best wishes up there in Canada. Kathryn xox

  15. Hello
    Your “gone wild” shrub looks like a pittosporum. Lucky you for such a beauty…

  16. Yes, you are right! Thank you! I just googled pittosporum and that is precisely what it is. I was wondering if that question was going to get answered! I’m so glad you knew! Yes, it’s huge. The woman who originally owned this house was the president of the local gardening club, decades ago, so I’m graced, clearly with some of her early efforts. I’m guessing the pittosporum is one, given its size! Thank you again! Kathryn xox

  17. Beautiful story, Kathryn. I love that you leave them peanuts and they come when you call.~~Dee

  18. Hi, Dee! Yes, that is the a very touching part of this story, for sure. I feel so honored. :) Thanks for visiting! I thought about you today when I was out there cutting back bushes without gloves on! :) Kathryn xoxo

  19. Ohmygoodness! Your photographs of the birds are beautiful! What an amazing relationship you have developed with your feathered friends. And now I will have to go read up on scrub jays.
    Hugs,
    CurtissAnn

  20. Enjoy, CurtissAnn! Do you have some kind of jay in Oklahoma? Kathryn xox

  21. You enchant the birds right out of the trees! or pittosporum ;)
    This was simply delightful to read. Right now we have a starling family nesting above us on the house next door. I ve not seen the jays in pairs in our yard…but from today I will observe a bit more closely! I love seeing the pair waiting for their peanuts after your call. What fun!You always brighten my day.

  22. LOL! Hi, Philip! Perhaps. I do have some special bond with at least some of the animal kingdom, I say most humbly. I have a lizard living out front. He’s been there for at least six weeks, living under the lavender. He
    comes out each afternoon once the lavender is shading the sidewalk, but is warm from the sun. (Smart lizard.) I do hope he doesn’t mind my sharing our secret… :) Kathryn

  23. Hello, Kathryn! Just found your blog, courtesy of Blotanical… what a lovely discovery! And my very first browse brought me to the Jay article. I too, love scrub jays. When we lived in Larkspur (Marin County) I had several scrubs visiting. One of them waited for my whistle as a cue to swoop down and pluck a peanut off of my outstretched foot. Another would come in any open door and forage for treats, and was very brash about screeching through a window if he found the door closed.

    I look forward to reading more of your garden tales….

    Anne

  24. Hi, Anne! I lived in Marin for 35 years, but never had any scrub jay experiences, strangely. :) Never lived in Larkspur, mostly southern Marin. I’ve heard they will come inside, but I would not encourage with two kitties and two Border Collies–recipe for bedlam! Glad you found Plant! Kathryn xox

  25. I also found your blog through Blotanical. I live in Oakland, and just today got our Western Scrub Jays to eat from my hand.

  26. Hi, Lisa! Welcome. I did go read your post. Fascinating! I think you did a good job catching those birds eating from your hand! And bravo for working up to that kind of trust! Fun, isn’t it?? Kathryn xoxo

  27. I enjoyed the story of the scrub jays. We had two scrub jays build a nest 6 feet high in a climbing rose bush on the side of our house several weeks ago. The rose bush had overgrown and the trellis had pulled away from the house. My husband was planning on pruning it until he saw the nest, so he braced it until the chicks would hatch and leave the nest. My 10-year old daughter named the jays “Jay-jay” (mama) and “Eric” (Dad). Each day I would look to see Jay-jay sitting on her eggs while Eric gathered food. I believe they were snatching some of our dogs dog food from the garage. Anyway, I would leave nuts by the nest and return later to find them gone. I read that the incubation period for the eggs was about 3 weeks, so I waited. I thought roughly 3 weeks had past so I was awaiting the egg hatching. Last week I noticed “Jay-jay” periodically leaving and returning to the nest. While she was away, I climbed a small ladder to try to look inside. I saw something brown-ish and thought it was moving, but wasn’t sure. I couldn’t tell if they were eggs or chicks, but saw no beaks awaiting food. A day later I looked again in the nest and it was empty. I looked around, but saw no chicks anywhere. I have seen the male jay flying around here and there, but no female. I have been trying to figure out what happened. We have a white german shepherd who “guards” the yard against cats and other potential “egg stealers”. Also, I would think the thorns would deter any potential predators. I don’t think she would have eaten any fallen chicks. I have been trying to figure out what happened. If you have any thoughts, let me know. I did enjoy your story. I love to watch birds.

  28. Hi, Amy, Well, I don’t really know what happened. But I can tell you this. I would never look inside the nest of any bird who did not know and trust me. This is why. I learned this the hard way a long long time ago.
    I had finches. They trusted me. They built a nest and the mom laid her eggs. And she let me watch the whole process. Then I made a mistake in judgment and let a neighbor look into the nest. And the next thing that happened was heartbreaking and I could never have anticipated. The mama bird destroyed the nest and eggs. I’m not suggesting that happened to your scrubjay nest. I don’t know what happened there. But I am suggesting to build a relationship with a bird (any bird) prior to peeking in her nest. Good luck next year! Kathryn xoxo

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