Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

National Blue Jay Awareness Month begins today!

Blue Jay

Tonight there’s a full moon, and there will be a second full moon this month on August 31. This, according to most definitions, makes that one a blue moon. Since 1987, I’ve been naming any month with a blue moon National Blue Jay Awareness month. 

It has come to my attention over the years that some people disapprove of Blue Jays. We humans have a tendency to despise those creatures most like ourselves, and Blue Jays fit the bill with their intelligence, spunkiness, tight family bonds, loudness, and ability to exploit a great many situations for their personal benefit. This month, I’ll focus several special programs on my beloved Blue Jays, but will also have a few about their blue relatives, such as the three scrub-jays, the Mexican Jay, and the Steller’s Jay, since they, too, can legitimately be called blue jays.

Little Golden Activity Book: Bird Stamps

As much as I love chickadees, I’ve always considered Blue Jays to be Nature’s Perfect Bird. My first experience with them was when I was a very little girl and my Chicago family took a vacation in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. A Blue Jay squawking up in a tree caught my eye when it was in full sunlight, and it was the most perfect vision I’d ever had. I recognized it from The Little Golden Stamp Book of Birds, which my beloved Grandpa had given me, and the real thing was even prettier than its shiny image on the big Blue Jay stamp. This would have been in the 1950s. I didn’t see another Blue Jay until I became a birder in 1975.

Blue Jay page (Little Golden Activity Book: Bird Stamps)

The first baby bird I successfully raised was in 1979, when I rescued one out of a golden retriever’s mouth in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Lugwig the baby Blue Jay

This was before I knew about the Migratory Bird Act. I had absolutely no training in raising baby birds and was terrified of screwing up because this little bird looked at me with such bright and trusting eyes. Fortunately, I had a dear friend in the US Fish and Wildlife Service who’d had a pet magpie that he’d raised from a tiny nestling back when he lived in the West and there was still a bounty on magpies. He gave me excellent suggestions on what to feed the little guy and little hints like of course I didn’t need to get up in the middle of the night to feed it because parent birds can’t see in the dark to find insects and other food items for their young, so baby birds of course can go the night without eating. I probably called him 30 times that summer, and he was as happy as me that the little jay thrived and ultimately became wild. I was so sad when he disappeared in the fall. I never saw him again, though the following spring while Russ and I were out of town, our neighbor saw him pecking on our apartment windows and he alighted on her lawn chair while she was sunbathing and stared at her quizzically.

Lugwig the baby Blue Jay

Blue Jay populations are strong. We can find them in just about any forest type and in established neighborhoods just about anywhere, but they are most strongly associated with oak trees. They are aces at selecting the most fertile acorns. Those they don’t eat immediately they tuck into the ground and cover with a leaf. Their extraordinary spatial memory allows them to retrieve them later, but because they plant so many, a great many grow up to become oak trees. Indeed, Blue Jays are credited with literally planting oak forests as glaciers receded. Birches, maples, and other wind-borne seeds didn’t have a chance to stay abreast of acorns, thanks to Blue Jays flying about caching them.
What other bird on the planet combines so much beauty, intelligence, and fun in a three-ounce package, and plants oak forests to boot? Yep. Blue Jays are Nature’s Perfect Bird.

Blue Jay