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16 May 2006 — Saving Baby Jay (12)

Note: Though this entry may at first appear to be filled with cat on bird violence, it has a happy ending. I think.

I was sound asleep in the tub tonight when Kris came barging into the house. "Nemo just caught a juvenile jay!" she shouted, distressed. I woke with a start. Outside there was a raucous squawking riot. I rose from the tub and dripped to the front door, naked.

Nemo was slinking around the back of the house, treasure in mouth. Simon was making his way to the azalea hedge where the capture had occurred. "What do I do?" Kris asked.

"Scare Simon," I said. I ran to the bathroom for my pants. When I came outside, Kris was pouring her water bottle over the azaleas. "No," I said. "Hit the hedge with a stick." She did so, and Simon bounded out. So, too, did another juvenile jay. Simon saw it, but Kris was quicker: she scooped it into her hands.


"What do I do now?" she asked.

"Hold on," I said. I grabbed Simon and shut him in the house. Mama and Papa Jay were flying from limb-to-limb, squawking at us.

"I'm going to make a nest for the baby," Kris said. She bunched up some ivy in the crook of some pine branches, then placed the fledgling inside. While she worked, I walked around the house to find Nemo.

He was back by the dogwoods, seated in loaf position, watching his baby jay as it hopped along the ground. Nemo wasn't even trying to play with it. I thought for sure the thing had been mortally wounded, but when I picked it up, I was shocked to find that it was wholly uninjured. How was that even possible? As I carried it back to the front yard, it squawked — louder than any adult jay I've ever heard — and struggled to be free. Its parents squawked in reply.

"Is it alive?" Kris asked after she had locked Nemo in the house. She was as shocked as I was. "What do we do now?" she said.

"Put it in the tree with its brother?" I suggested. But when I crept behind the azaleas — naked except for my pants — the other fledgling was gone. "Ouch," I said, pricked by holly leaves and pine needles. Kris took a turn looking in the pine and on the ground nearby, but there was no sign of the bird. Can a parent jay carry its children? we wondered.

I let the feisty jay free on the grass where it immediately hopped for cover underneath a lawn chair. "We should feed it," Kris said. While she looked for worms, I grabbed my camera. I loved the little bird's personality, his indomitable spirit to have survived Nemo.


"Worms are more difficult to find when you need them," Kris said, bringing a little one for the baby jay. The bird pecked at it, but did not eat it.

We spent half an hour trying to get the parents and the baby to reunite. Mama and Papa Jay were aware that their baby was with us; they flew from hedge to bush to tree, keeping low to the ground, but they would not come into the open to get their child. And we didn't want to let the fledgling hop into the bushes (which was what it wanted to do).

The mosquitoes feasted upon our flesh: I was still wearing only a pair of pants.

As dusk fell, we brought the bird inside and put it in a cat carrier. (Oh! The irony!) We gave it a dish of water and a dish of millet. We made a bed of straw. While Kris fussed over our young charge, I googled for information. I found a page about how to care for baby birds — unfortunately, its advice was to let the fledglings hop into the bushes where its parents can care for them, something we had prevented. By this time it was dark out, and we were worried that the parents had given up on their child when we brought it inside.

"I'll get a box," I said. I found a shoebox, and we moved the bird and its water and its millet inside. I took the shoebox and placed it behind the azalea hedge, beneath the pine tree.

Will our little jay survive? I don't know. I hope so. Our feline children will not be allowed outside for several days, that's for sure. The first place they'll go when we let them out is the azalea hedge, hunting for birds. I'm hopeful that by the weekend the juvenile jays will be able to fly, and thus elude our hunters.

Cat and Bill disapprove of the fact that we allow the cats outside, partly because they do hunt, killing birds from time-to-time. I respect their position, and understand their concerns, but mostly I believe that the cat-bird dynamic is hardcoded into nature and ought to be allowed to play out. However, I recognize that as a moral human animal, it is my responsibility to do what I can to protect all intelligent life when possible. Nemo killing a goldfinch once or twice a year is one thing; Nemo picking off baby jays who have left the nest is another.

What line has been crossed here? I can't articulate it, but I do know that so long as it's within my power to save these baby jays, it's my responsibility to do so. I feel no remorse at the death of a goldfinch, but the death of a jay seems reprehensible. Whine as they might, the cats are restricted indoors for several more days.

Resources about caring for baby birds:

Be well, little bird!

On this day at foldedspace.org

2007Best Picture   In which Kris and I both love the film Little Children.


Comments
On 15 May 2006 (11:37 PM), J.D. said:

I forgot the prelude to this story: on Sunday afternoon, Kris and I spent a long time sitting in the yard, watching the birds and petting the cats. Oliver, the neighbor cat, came to visit. He wandered down the front sidewalk where he was scolded violently by a pair of jays. Basically, I think think these fledglings have been wandering in the front hedges for the past few days while their parents try to keep guard against the cats. There are a lot of cats in this neighborhood — not just our own. I hope these little guys gain flight soon.

I'm reminded of this weblog entry I saw last week about a tame jay that keeps a fellow company as he works on his laptop. And I think Lynn made a comment about a jay that keeps her father or grandfather company.

Jays get a bad rap, but I think they're cute. They're also fun to watch.


On 16 May 2006 (05:53 AM), J.D. said:

Some good news this morning!

I just went outside to check on our little friend, and he's out of the shoebox and in the pine. His parents were flying to-and-fro nearby, and were very agitated. One of the squawked and flew low at me, trying to distract me. I picked the baby up to move him to a safer spot and he screeched one of his awful screeches. The parents know he's there, and I think they're caring for him. Barring any adventurous neighborhood cats, I think this story will have a happy ending...


On 16 May 2006 (07:04 AM), J.D. said:

Warning: This comment contains graphic violence against birds.

Alas, not all is well in Birdland.

Walking down the sidewalk to my car this morning, I discovered the remains of one little fellow (not my brave guy, who is still in the pine, but perhaps the other one we saved yesterday). This poor bird's head was ripped off, as was one wing. His guts were spread across the concrete.

A neighborhood cat hunted well last night...


On 16 May 2006 (09:46 AM), shawnde said:

I'm curious about the habits of raising jays. Last year we had a baby jay hanging around on the ground for a couple days with parents squawking when danger approached. This year - the same thing! We're keeping the dogs and cat away from this little guy, but this seems to be a routine. Do jay parents kick the little ones out early to see who will survive? Or do the little ones consistently fall out for some reason? Just as in your case, the little jay was down last night, and he's still down this morning, but hopping around to various spots.


On 17 May 2006 (02:12 AM), Annie said:

Hats off to your spirit to make baby bird survive!Its everyone's duty as a social being to protect a life on earth if it is possible. And u had truely fulfilled that. Your act may inspires others also.


On 17 May 2006 (04:49 PM), Virginia said:

A very sad, cute story or maybe it's a cute, sad story. Either way it's an interesting story and I know the feeling about the nature of cats, yet having a love for birds, especially cute, helpless, little baby birds. Thanks for the compliment on my blog.


On 17 May 2006 (04:57 PM), Lisa said:

Update, please. I've been fretting.


On 17 May 2006 (05:14 PM), J.D. said:

No update to provide. Okay, maybe a little one.

The baby jay was not in his box yesterday when I got home. But his parents weren't buzzing around, either. In fact, it was eerily birdless.

I mowed the lawn while Kris lounged on the porch. The cats begged to get out. We refused. "Can't we let them out for a little while?" Kris asked. "Not Nemo," I said.

We let Simon out and he tagged along as we did yardwork. We lost track of him, though, until we heard mad squawking from the front hedge (but on the opposite side from which the earlier action had occurred). "Get Simon," I said, and we ran to the rescue. Though Mama and Papa Jay had entered full-protection mode, there was no sign of little jays. We took Simon inside.

And here he's remained, sullen, bitter, put-upon. "Unfair to cats!" is the rallying cry we hear, but we turn a deaf ear...


On 17 May 2006 (08:29 PM), Kris said:

Update Wednesday evening: I'm upstairs watching The News Hour when I hear a complete jay squawking uproar. All of our three cats are (unhappily) inside. I dash to the window and see the neighbor cat, L'il Bit, in the jay fledging ground, being harried by several adult jays. So I rush downstairs, outside, scaring both the cat and the jays away and see the fledging once again sitting, apparently unharmed, on the grass. This time I decide to immediately put it back deep in the bushes/ivy, then shoo away L'il Bit (for the rest of the night, I hope). However, now that she knows it's there, it may just be a matter of time.... I wonder if she was the culprit in the other fledging's demise. This whole experience has really made me curious about the survival rate for blue jays. I mean, does this make sense? Keep your flightless baby birds on the ground?

It looked to me as if there are now four adults guarding this fledging. May the force be with them. In the meantime, our own cats continue to pout.


On 19 May 2006 (07:35 AM), J.D. said:

Woe! Another headless jay on the sidewalk this morning. That's two total, and accounts for the only ones we knew of. I hope that there's more, and that they survive, and most of all that they were the ones that we rescued, but I think I'm probably just deluding myself. At least I can take comfort that it wasn't our cats that did the murder...


On 26 May 2006 (12:51 PM), Kris said:

Starlings apparently have a more-advanced child-rearing syten than jays. Today, loud squawking drew me to the kitchen window to observe one adult starling and five juveniles, newly able to fly and looking very proud of themselves.


On 02 June 2006 (12:21 PM), Lorraine Chavarria said:

First, thank you so much for your baby jay observations. As of this moment I am keeping 3 irritated cats hostage inside while a fledgling hops around my yard for the 2nd day. I can't seem to find out how long it takes for the little guys to learn how to fly. Do you happen to know?