This summer, my wife and I have made friends with the blue jays that live in our yard. We have been shocked by how brave they are, and by how much personality they possess.
I grew up with birds in the house, but they were parrots and macaws and parakeets. I know that these birds are intelligent, and have just as much personality as any other animal (or person). But I’ve always clumped wild birds into a nebulous “dumb bird” category in my head. (Except for crows, that is. I know crows are smart.)
Turns out blue jays aren’t dumb birds. And they have plenty of individual personality.
Our “main” bird is called Sammy, and he’s the boldest and most aggressive of the group. We lure the jays with peanuts, and Sammy is willing to come down within arm’s reach to get his treats. (My goal is to get him to eat out of my hand. He’s considered it before, but never acted upon it.)
If we go outside, Sammy will sometimes fly down to where we are — the rose garden, the blueberries, wherever — and squawk at us. “Give me peanuts,” he says. If we are in the process of feeding him and another jay comes nearby, Sammy will scold the interloper and try to scare it away. (This often fails, though. He can’t keep away three or four jays at a time.)
Last month, I was going a project at the picnic table. I set a pile of peanuts on a nearby bench. Despite the fact I was moving around the table (and often within just feet of the bench), Sammy continued to fly down, grab a peanut, and then fly away with the treasure.
Sammy used to fly far away to hide his peanuts and then return for more. Now he realizes that’s too much work. When we give him a peanut, he simply hides it wherever he found it in the lawn, even if that’s just a few feet from us. He tap tap taps the nut into the ground, eyes it to be sure it’s hidden, then covers it with a leaf or two. Then he turns around for more peanuts.
He’s even losing his fear of our four cats (and they are losing interest in him). If a cat is at the picnic table, Sammy will still fly down to pick a peanut off the other end.
We’ve been trying to decide what has made this bird so bold. We believe that Sammy is a youngster, one of last year’s juvenile jays. We believe he’s never had reason to fear us. One of this year’s juveniles is almost as bold, too (maybe bolder), and we expect it to join Sammy’s antics next year.
My favorite time with Sammy, though, is in the midst of “the grove”, a small clearing in the middle of a flower bed. It’s an enclosed space maybe twelve feet in diameter. Sammy feels perfectly safe there, and he comes even closer than he does on the lawn. He and I like to sit in the grove and chat, sharing peanuts.