Bluejays are in the Corvidae family, which includes Ravens, Crows, and Magpies. This family includes our largest passerines (perching birds/songbirds) and is without a doubt, taken as a whole, the brains of the U.S. bird world. The term “Bird Brain” is meant as an insult but studies of the Corvid family should turn this insult into a compliment. If you want to read how smart the Corvids are, read the “The Genius of Birds,” by Jennifer Ackerman.
My relationship with jays have changed since I was a boy. They were the annoying guardian of the forest then, scaring away my b.b./.22 gun prey with their raucous “Sneaakk, Sneaakk.” I learned at an early age that the whole forestlistens to bird alarms and responds accordingly. It took me quite a bit longer to learn that I could take advantage of these alarms myself. But that is a tale for another time.
I have been in the woods when I heard a rowdy group of jays coming near, screaming, making hawk sounds, seemingly just to disrupt the woods and have fun. It reminded me of a loud bunch of teenagers at the beach, loud and obnoxious, reveling in their fun and annoyance of others. They take this behavior to a new level when they are mobbing hawks or owls. They gather around the offending bird and scream together and dive at them until the big birds move off or the blue jays tire of it. I have, however, seen some owls and hawks who were Zen masters of ignoring this hubbub around them.
Perhaps like me, you have seen a Jay prey upon a sparrow, warbler or vireo. Watching them use their heavy bill to kill a hatchling never failed to disturb me as a boy, but as I grew older, I adopted the classic James Bond biological theme song of “Live and Let die.” Jays are mainly vegetarians, primarily eating nuts, fruits, and seeds, and the forest is thankful that they are. They are cachers, burying acorns and other nuts for winter use, and the fact that many go unclaimed results in new oaks and beeches each year. It is thought that Bluejays took a major role in quickly reestablishing trees up north when the last glaciers retreated.
Jays are beautiful in that way where you are thunderstruck, standing with your mouth open. Maybe it is just me. I pick up a lot of things in the woods, some that horrified my mother when she found them in the freezer when I was young, and I still find joy in every bluejay feather I find. For fun, check out this bluejay video, from a self-named bird nerd who has some great bird videos. If you don’t think jays are beautiful by the end of the video, then maybe it’s time for a long sabbatical and time of introspection into who you are and why you are like you are.
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