Even though the baby Blue Jays I watched at Council Point Park were quite amusing, they did not give me the warm fuzzies like ducklings and goslings do. But they did give me a chuckle, a lot of photos and fodder for today’s post.
Perhaps calling them “babies” is a bit of a stretch. Actually they were fledglings, which, under the tutelage of Mama Blue Jay, were learning the art of stealing peanuts off the perimeter path, much to the squirrels’ chagrin.
Here in Michigan, and, I suspect, in most other states in the Union, as back-to-school time approaches, there is much controversy over in-seat schooling versus home schooling due to the pandemic. Well, sometimes the most-important lessons, including life lessons, are learned from your Mama and that was certainly the case on a very warm Saturday morning as I watched the interplay between a few fledgling Blue Jays and their Mama.
First, there was a kerfuffle …
I meandered along the perimeter path, bemoaning the lack of squirrels once again, though I conceded that due to the extreme heat and humidity, perhaps my furry friends would be lounging along a tree branch as I’d often seen them do. Suddenly, a Fox squirrel appeared out of nowhere, likely alerted by a whiff of peanuts from my open bag and he slunk down the tree trunk to investigate. I tossed out some peanuts in anticipation of his/her arrival.
Soon, just a few feet away, I heard a flurry of activity in that same tree. I saw the branches moving and a flash of blue between the leaves. It is not unusual to see a Blue Jay or two staking out a good perch to study squirrel activity once peanuts are tossed down on the perimeter path.
The rustling noises in the tree continued – what in the world was going on?
Those are wily birds those Blue Jays. Unlike the more-subdued and very cautious Northern Cardinals, as mentioned, Jays love to snatch peanuts right from under a squirrel’s nose. It is amusing to see. They are always watching, waiting ….
Then a whole lot of squeaky noises were goin’ on …
Suddenly a cacophony of squeaky noises erupted from that same tree and the sound filled the moist morning air. I didn’t recognize the noise and knew it was not a squirrel distress call, so Your Roving Reporter’s interest was piqued enough to investigate.
The call of a Blue Jay is intense and loud. It is not a pretty trilling sound like a songbird, but more of a screechy call. It has been referred to as a “jeer” or sounding like the word “thief” – if you’ve never heard their call, you can listen by clicking here. The “alarm call” is especially loud.
I staked out my own spot, near a tree, camera at the ready.
It finally became obvious to me, there were multiple birds in the tree – were they fighting? The odd-sounding squeaking noises continued. I was stymied, but then discovered it was several Blue Jays once the leaves parted enough for me to glimpse inside. It looked like one large Jay and at least two smaller ones. But, for my investigative efforts, and, while I was pondering this mystery, I was rewarded with a nasty look by Mama Blue Jay whose demeanor seemed to suggest I should not be questioning her parenting skills. 🙂
(Note: with Blue Jays, even experienced birders have a tough time distinguishing males from females, unless they’re side by side – the male is larger. I’m NOT an experienced birder, so I’m going to assume this was Mama, not Papa, sharing these prized parental skills.) Soon Mama swooped down again and swiped a peanut as if to flaunt her peanut-grabbing prowess and say “watch me … this is how it is done!”
Unfortunately, the tree cast a lot of shade on the path, so, in anticipation of more photo ops, I tossed down additional peanuts anyway, then quickly stepped aside once again and I looked to see if I could find a spot with a little more light, to no avail.
The treetop squeaks continued in fits and spurts, as did the wiggling of the tree’s leaves as the peanut-retrieving class was ready to begin.
So, were the students quick learners?
Suddenly the first youngster appeared on the pathway. I knew it was a juvenile as the bright and colorful markings that easily identify a Blue Jay were missing. The plumage was more gray than blue, the crest was not as prominent and it was much smaller than an adult.
Soon the youngster was joined by a sibling and they both paused near the peanuts, but hastily flew back up to the tree, causing me to step back even more paces in case I was scaring them.
A second fly-by-and-sit-down-and-ponder-peanuts resulted in a near collision. This isn’t the greatest photo, but here they tried to queue up, after they nearly bumped bodies, or noggins – peanuts were examined, but once again they returned to the tree, empty beaked.
The art of the deal (the trading-peanuts-for poses-deal that is).
So, did an exasperated Mama next scold the kids or coach them more on the art of stealing the squirrels’ peanuts knowing I’d be taking photos, so more peanuts would miraculously appear on the pathway? Believe me, Blue Jays are not bird brains. They are in the Corvidae family, (as are crows) and have exceptional intelligence.
Likely Mama took her youngsters under her wing and said “look and watch me carefully.”
She flew down again, grabbed a peanut with ease, then returned to the tree.
Soon, there was lots of activity on the path as two young Blue Jays zoomed down to the ground over and over again. Mama must’ve counseled them in bird speak, by saying “that girl, the sucker, just put out more peanuts, so you guys get your butts down there and grab ’em up like your Mama just did!”
Finally, the kids caught on …
Meanwhile a few squirrels seized the opportunity as well and the nut supply was dwindling, so it was time for me to intervene with more peanuts so that this valuable peanut-stealing lesson could progress. They soon were adept at this food-gathering ritual, but alas, Mama and her youngsters tired of the peanut-retrieving game before I did, so I moved along when there was no sign of them on the path for about ten minutes. I glanced at my watch – it was the top of the hour, so I reckon the “How to Grab a Grub in Ten Seconds or Less” lesson was about to begin.