Getting to know you... Jay

Photo by Justin Watts
Here's an update on our backyard bird community, since the last time I wrote six months ago. We've now gone through our first spring in this house and we're into summer, and the bird landscape has changed as well.

Since the last bird list, we've had sightings of so many beautiful birds: Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, Spotted Towhee, Nutmeg Mannikin, Purple Finch, Common Yellowthroat, Oak Titmouse, Hooded Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. You can see what these critters look like on my Pinterest backyard bird board.

But my favorite birdwatching right now is the Scrub Jay family.

About ten days ago, we discovered that we had fledgling jays in the yard, babies that had recently left the nest.

We've been feeding peanuts to the parents for some time, but didn't realize they were a family unit until the juveniles appeared.

As I said in my previous bird post, I had never been particularly interested in birds, and even seeing so many colorful visitors to the yard felt more like an exercise in collecting and categorizing than in getting to know the birds.

But the jays have changed all that. Watching the adults choose burial sites for their peanuts has been entertaining, sure. But watching the youngsters learn the ropes of being a bird is amazing. As corvids (the family that jays and crows belong to) are known for their intelligence and curiosity, the baby jays don't disappoint.

They chase the towhees and sometimes forage with them.

They pick up everything they find on the ground, sometimes trying to bury it, sometimes calling loudly for someone to come see their discovery. They've already developed the habit of hiding treasures under leaves, but sometimes the leaf itself is the treasure.

They steal from each other.

They can't figure out how to land in the bird feeder because of their size and still awkward flight ability, so they occasionally fall out.

One sits on a branch under the sock feeder, reaching up with its beak and trying to determine how to get the seeds without actually clinging to it like the finches do.

One juvenile came flying out of a bush the other day with something stuck all over its face, maybe leaves and spider webs? He rolled on the ground, he scratched, he flapped. The parent jay stood by, watching, then shoved some food into the baby's mouth and took off. Not exactly the most helpful act, but later the youngster returned with a clean face.

They sun themselves in the garden, lying on one side, fluffed up, wings out, with mouths hanging open. Sometimes they sleep on the sunny branch of a tree.

They scream for food, and occasionally I'm in the right place at the right time to see one flapping its wings and opening its mouth to receive a snack from the parent (they're almost as big as the full-grown jays, but will still be fed by them for another few weeks).

First bird to discover the new birdbath: baby jay. And he splashed and drank like it was the best thing ever. Sibling jay was a little more cautious.

The baby jays are no different from any kittens I've ever known. They play, they hunt, they explore, they learn and they become more and more like their parents every day.

I'm a little sad for the time when they're grown and their lives become all about work -- just like us human grownups. Jays tend to live in family groups for a couple of years until the juveniles are adults and ready to mate. And even then, they may stay nearby and raise *their* families.

I feel honored to be a part of the lives of these wild creatures. The parents still come for their peanuts and the babies follow. Maybe someday soon the babies will come for peanuts of their own!