The Blue Jay

I am a nerd for birds. Though I can’t claim much official birding knowledge, I purchased a backyard feeder a few years ago and have learned some of the patterns of the feathered beauties who swoop in for a snack. The tiny chickadees are the most numerous, visiting frequently and always impressing me with their boldness. They never seem rattled by my presence, even when I’m within arm’s reach of the feeder. The cardinals with their ruby red feathers are a delight to glimpse against a backdrop of fresh snow. The males and females seem to travel together, taking turns at the feeder. Sometimes I’ll see an American goldfinch flutter by, brightening the yard with brilliant yellow hues.

But of all the feathered friends who grace our backyard, it is the blue jay that I find most captivating. I always hear this bird before I see it. Its loud, almost jarring call is unmistakable, as if announcing to all within earshot: “I’m here! I’m here! Listen to me! Look at me!” The sound makes me stop what I’m doing and dash to the nearest window, scanning the yard for the bird’s bright blue plumage and belly cloaked in white.

I’m always surprised by how much larger the blue jay is than the other birds who visit our feeder. Compared to the diminutive chickadee, it looks robust, even though its average weight is only between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces. This relative size advantage complements the blue jay’s aggressive nature. I’ve noticed that other birds stay away when the blue jay is dining, with the exception of a red-bellied woodpecker who dared to approach the feeding tray one recent afternoon. The blue jay jumped to the top of the perch and waited for the uninvited guest to finish, then resumed the meal, but I imagined his dismay in being disturbed.

This year’s premature transition from fall into winter has reminded me that change is relentless and sometimes occurs faster than we’d like. Over the past few weeks, as the weather turned bitterly cold, I’ve relished the blue jay’s visits. There is comfort in consistency, in seeing this feathered friend whether the sky is clear and bright or blanketed in storm clouds. On school mornings when we’re running late because someone’s favorite black leggings are still in the wash, a library book is missing, the dog is chewing the walls again, and I haven’t had my coffee, the bird’s raucous call jolts me out of my frantic state. Sometimes I imagine the universe is giving me a chance to reset, as if the bird’s call is really a message tailored just for me: “Listen to me. Take a breath. It will all be okay.”

So I listen. When I hear the call, I look up, out the window at the feeder that’s now surrounded by sodden grass and chunks of melting snow. The blue jay is at the perch, radiant, with white accents that gleam in the sunshine. I feel some of the air return to my body as the tempo of the morning slows, if only for a minute. “Look, everyone,” I whisper to the kids. “The blue jay is here!”

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