Scrub Jays

It was my daughter who first spotted the nest last spring lodged in the center of a tall pink camellia bush blooming just outside the kitchen window. A pair of lovely blue and grey Western scrub-jays were caring for a clutch of eggs and, once alerted, I was delighted to have a ringside seat to their endeavor. I happily climbed a small ladder day after day, several times a day, I assure you, to view each and every activity and relished every little change. I was enchanted!

Eventually the sitting and tending reaped the inevitable little heads poking upward for food brought dutifully by both parents. The dark green leaves of the camellia bush served as good protection from any potential predators, but eventually the day came when the five (!!) babies began to explore their environment, moving tenuously out of the nest on to adjoining branches. Overnight my euphoric witnessing of a delightful miracle turned edgy. What if they fell? Gradually and reluctantly the realization that I had very little control over their fate and well being sunk in upon me. Bummer.

One morning I took my window position over the sink and saw unexpectedly that nearly all the babies were recklessly bouncing from one branch to the next. Adrenaline swept through me,crescendoing as one adventurous baby (I was sure it was a boy) landed upon an innocent sibling (I was sure it was a girl) and they both went tumbling to the ground. I rushed outside, horrified. This was a tall bush. The nest was quite aways up. I knew it was futile to put them back. They had entered life as fledglings.

I don’t know why I thought a fledgling knew how to fly. Over the next couple of days I learned they don’t. They are most often helplessly on the ground, parents watching overhead trying to fend off predators, while they learn to fly to safety. Who knew?

Mama never forgets her birds,
Though in another tree–
She looks down just as often
And just as tenderly
As when her little mortal nest
With cunning care she wove–
If either of her “sparrows fall,”
She “notices,” above.

Emily Dickinson

By now my projections were fully engaged. I was an auntie at best, and I ran wildly at any cat that dared to cross my property line. Trying desperately to protect them I put up a mobile puppy fence at one end of that side of the house, hoping that might offer some protection. And then I proceeded to knock on every door of every house nearby asking whomever answered if they might be mindful that baby birds were literally afoot, and if they happened to have cats, would they please try to keep tabs over them the next three or four days just to give the babies a fighting chance?

I honestly don’t know if this had any effect whatsoever, other than to fully ensure that most of my neighbors’ eyebrows were permanently raised in my direction. I know the cats came and went with abandon. No one seemed to really care about the birds. It appeared it was a stretch to even consider in their worlds.

Eventually the babies disappeared. I had to fully surrender to the fact I would have no way of knowing who survived, who did not. I am left with some reassuring clues. One is that scrub jays routinely land on my fence, just a few feet from the nest, begging for peanuts, which they know I leave on the sidewalk, at the foot of the camellia tree. And I often see them bathing in the birdbath out front, particularly if the sprinkler is filling the bath. (They don’t bathe; they shower.)

More convincing is that this spring a scrub jay suddenly appeared in the old nest, still nestled untouched high in the budding camellia tree and he brought with him his mate, clearly showing her the possible nesting place, which she promptly rejected, to my disappointment. Instead they settled on a large compact tree in the back yard, way up high. I might not have even known had I not gone out one morning and found a large baby scrub jay looking bewilderedly up at me from the ground at the base of the tree. I never saw it again. But the parents took all the fledglings who were able to a fig tree and a large quince bush in the far back of the property and there they taught them all to fly. And that was that. I think they are here to stay.

5 Responses to “Scrub Jays”

  1. K.,
    As I slog through another day, cursing the workoad, juggling sick children and loads of laundry, I read your blog and felt like a breath of fresh air had just brushed through my office. Thank you for adding beauty and a sense of peace to my day. I look forward to this little piece of joy you will bring me and my world.
    Anita Bruzzese

  2. This is a beautiful site and yours is a wonderful inaugural post. As an avophile (bird lover?) I truly enjoyed it. And it is probably a Kathryn Hallmark that the first entry used a plant as a prop, and talked about something else.

    I have this blog on my reader (you might do well to inform people about readers) and look forward to making it a constant companion.

    Bon voyage!

  3. What a beautiful, sweet way to share in a world much overlooked in our busy society. Bravo!

  4. Found your blog while searching for information on Scrub Jays. We’ve had a baby scrub jay for a couple of weeks now and I’m trying to find information on them. Our friends brought him in to us originally, he was in their garden being stalked by a cat. He’s quite a character and we allow him to have free reign in our house (within reason). He enjoys picking up Lego’s, landing near us to ask for food or sitting on top of the ceiling fan chattering to our parakeets (who chatter back) I think he may be too tame to let outside now but am working to teach him to find food himself (with the help of various house plants I have) and hope to reintroduce him back to the wild soon. Your story gives me hope that he may stay around our house. I’d love to see him grow up and start a family of his own.

  5. Hi, Karin, Thank you for writing. I’m assuming from what you are saying he’s a fledgling and that he can now fly. It’s most likely the parents were watching over him and they are actually very good at discouraging cats from bothering their babies learning to fly. Two things that come to mind: I hope you will have contacted a rescue person or vet in your area. They would be best suited to helping you decide his ability to fend for himself. They would also know best food options. Also, many houseplants are poisonous to critters. Lastly, in many states it is illegal to care for wild birds in your house. So check your local regulations. It is my personal practice, if I find injured birds to immediately hand them over to someone licensed to rehabilitate them. But then perhaps you are such a person. Kathryn

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