It’s all my fault, I know.
I’m the one who sent my son, Tracy, out with the trash. If I had taken it out myself, I probably would have walked a different way–I wouldn’t have seen it. But I didn’t do it myself, and Tracy did see it, and he picked it up and insisted we “save it.”
The “it” was a young blue jay–too old to be called a baby, too young to survive by itself. I have to admit my heart sank at the prospect of attempting to keep it alive. And anyway, weren’t blue jays just pretty crows? Did we really need to save one? Wouldn’t it just hog all the bird seed next winter from the more…more…special birds? Why bother?
But I didn’t have the heart to leave it to starve, or worse yet, be the afternoon entertainment of one of my eight cats. It had its wing feathers so it seemed at least possible that we might be able to keep it alive for a day–then we’d take it to Wild Care. Except that we found out that Wild Care no longer existed. Thus began our three-week adventure with “Birdie.”
After it kept hopping out of its bucket “nest,” I put it, ironically, in our cat carrier with a stick poked through for a perch and hoisted it up in a tree to keep it away from cat paws and cat jaws.
It got hungry every hour or so, cawing and flapping its wings when we approached. Thanks to the web, we found out we could feed it raisins and raw hamburger–catching enough bugs to fill it up proved to be very time consuming. The vet told me that worms would help its digestion, and if I rolled them in dirt and sand, they would be even better.
The worms, however, must have been listening, packed their bags, and left the state. Hardly a worm could be found, so I sent my husband to a bait shop. There we got more worm than we bargained for–night crawlers so big, only a hawk could have downed them. So the squirmy things had to be cut up, and even then some of the more wriggly pieces tried to crawl back up as Birdie attempted to gulp them down. She made a funny little sound when she ate that I called her “yum yum sound.” And she grew.
And somewhere in there, we started thinking of it as a she, even though the internet said that male and female were virtually indistinguishable. And somewhere in there she stopped being any blue jay–she became our blue jay.
I loved the way she stretched her wings first on one side, then on the other. I laughed every time she stuck her strange, barbed tongue out of the side of her beak when she was full, and I was impressed with her manners when I gave her a nut, which she politely laid back down in her dish. Only a pretty crow? What we learned from Birdie in three weeks continues to amaze us.
We found out that a bird poops as soon as they eat something new–evidently there is just so much room in there.
Watching her hop from shoe to shoe, and later from branch to branch, completely changed what we thought we knew about the way birds learn to fly.
Trees became more than just tall things with leaves that bring us shade–looking through a bird’s eyes, they became highways in the air filled with crawly things to eat.
We learned up close how feathers grow in and how their color changes in the sunlight; that a blue jay cleans, or perhaps sharpens, its beak by striking it against a branch; and that even young birds have definite culinary tastes.
Then it happened.
I went to the small tree she had been hopping around in to see if she wanted to come down for something to eat, (at this stage she loved cat food and blueberries) but she was gone. After surveying the ground for a pile of blue feathers and calling for her in the surrounding trees, I was satisfied that she had really flown away. A sad moment, but also a sense of relief (no more hourly feedings!) and accomplishment. We really had done it–we had kept her alive until she could fly away.
Why bother? Because we could. Bye bye, Birdie, and thanks.
by Jodi Bowersox© 2006