Sunday, May 13, 2018

Scrub Jay Lassie

 photo: Katie Langin   

 I once lived in an apartment in Point Richmond, CA. with French-doors letting onto a patio overlooking the San Francisco bay.  

     Around the patio was a wall made of cinder-blocks upon which I used to spread a little wild bird seed for the variety of songbirds the adjacent garden attracted.  One of these birds was a scrub-jay.  I never knew if the bird in question was a male or female.  They all look alike to me.  

      One morning I was eating my breakfast, and the scrub-jay alighted before my French-doors and began to peck at one of the panes in a marked manner.  He/she was also hollering his/her head off.  

      Thinking that some other enterprising bird had already made off with the sunflower seeds that the jay favored, I went out with a handful of parrot-mix (which the jay was always delighted with) and found a well-stocked wall top.  I put the parrot mix along the wall and said to the jay, “There, are you satisfied, you spoilt brat?” and went indoors.

      I was resuming my interrupted breakfast when the jay returned and renewed its assault on my ears and window.  I briefly considered getting my 22lb Maine Coon Cat to saunter out and send this rude creature packing, but I began to wonder what the crazy bird was on about.  So I went outside.  The jay hopped about my feet, yelling frantically, so I said, “Ok, What!?”

     Immediately the jay sprang up to the top of the garden gate and shrieked a few times, hopping back and forth along the top of the gate.  Then it flew off into the garden, where I could now hear another jay “having a cow.”

     The first jay returned to the top of the gate and stood there looking at me and squalling repeatedly.  

     I began to think of various Lassie episodes I had seen.  I cocked my head and said, “What is it Lassie?  Did Timmy fall in the well?”  Again the bird flew into the garden and back, whereupon I went into the garden and followed the jay to the other side.  The bird landed on the ground beside four baby jays.  The other adult jay was flying around in circles diving back and forth over the babies – and with good reason.  My roommate’s two female cats were circling around the nestlings with lashing tails and hungry looks.  

    The garden-hose sent them packing, but what to do about the chicks?  They had no feathers except the very beginning of pin-feathers, and although I know it’s usually best to let babies alone, I felt that something must be done.

    I called my Doberman Pinscher, Blaise and put her in a down-stay by the babies. This was to keep the cats from returning.   

Meanwhile I began peering about, looking for the jay’s nest.  It took awhile, but I finally located it.  I got a ladder, put it up the side of the tree and ascended, after first securing the babies in the tail of my t-shirt.

   The first jay, the one that had “summoned” me, seemed fine with all this, but the other jay did its level best to scratch my eyes out and render me deaf.  I ignored it as much as possible.

     When I reached the nest, the problem was obvious.  “My” jays clearly had not expected to have such a large family.  The nest was barely big enough for two, let alone four.

     Back down the ladder I went, and into the house followed by one screeching and one silent jay.  I found a suitable bowl-shaped basket (about 7” across and 3” deep) and took it back outside.  Grabbing a handful of long twist-ties and some nice, dry grass-clippings from the garden shed, I deposited first the clippings and then the babies within the basket and climbed back up the ladder.
Using the twist-ties, I wired the new nest in the place of (well, on top of, actually) the old nest and removed myself to the bottom of the ladder which I carried a few feet away and waited to see what would happen.

   The first jay went immediately to the nest.  It seemed satisfied with the arrangement and remained perched on the edge of the basket.  The second jay had a few more choice words for me and then joined its partner.

     The brood was raised with no more difficulty, and I thought I was done with the inept nest-building jays.  But that was not the end of the story.

     This sequence of events was repeated for the next two years

     Hysterical jay summons bemused breakfast-eater to rescue fallen baby jays, in two other locations.  Next year it was a tree across the street, the following year it was in the yard next to the second spot. Both times the babies were surrounded by prowling felines, both years I used the same basket to re-home the fallen quartet.

     It is interesting to note that although the “Lassie” jay’s partner never acquired its mate’s confidence in me, it at least stopped dive-bombing my head and it screeched with much less alarm when I appeared with my Doberman and my ladder.

     I don’t know how they fared with their babies after that, because I moved to a different neighborhood.  But I always wondered how they were getting on. 

     Does this sort of thing happen to other people?

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