Tuesday afternoon started just like any other. I grabbed a cup of coffee and set up office at the picnic table in my backyard. I sat down and took a look at my to-do list and felt my stress level climbing. It’s been 3.5 months since I was fired. I’ve made very little progress with freelance design, which forced me to make my first withdrawal from my retirement savings account. As I battled my self-doubt, I noticed something fluffy fall from a nearby pine tree.
A fledgling Blue Jay had just jumped from his nest. He was stunned and seemed a bit panicked at first, screeching for help. I waited and watched. No one came to his rescue. I didn’t even hear any Blue Jay calls, which is quite strange for my yard.
The little bird started hopping away from the tree. I worried that he wasn’t ready to leave his nest, so I did a quick online search to see what I should do. As it turns out, he did not need rescuing. Young Blue Jays spend a few weeks on the ground learning to forage. During this time, the parents allow quite a bit of independence but will swoop in to check on their fledglings and will continue to feed them on occasion. This little guy seemed healthy, so I decided to keep an eye on him, just in case. He hopped around my yard, eating ants, chirping for his parents, and taking random naps.
As night set in, I began to worry about all the nocturnal predators who live in or regularly pass through my yard: two Red Tailed Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, an occasional owl, several neighborhood cats who are expert hunters, a fox, and a very cranky gigantic raccoon. I decided I’d see if he’d stay in my dog’s chain-link kennel. I figured that it might keep the 4-legged predators away from him and the doghouse and several other items could protect him from any winged predators.
I carefully guided him into a box and moved him to the kennel. (Before you freak out, it’s actually a myth that Blue Jays will abandon their young if they smell humans on them.) He hopped around a bit and quickly found a safe place and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, we found him under a maple tree near the front of our yard. He had a slight scratch on his head, so I called the local parks department to see if he needed rescue. I was told to just watch for any signs of malnutrition.
So, I set up my outdoor office once again and kept an eye on “Little Jay”. I noticed that several Robins had started randomly circling him and squawking at him. They had fledglings of their own in the trees above him and were not thrilled with the idea of making new friends.
After one of them flew at Little Jay, I decided to step in. I walked over to scare away the Robins. I was standing near him determining what I should do next, Little Jay hopped up on my foot. I didn’t really want to pick him up for a variety of reasons, so as he perched on my foot I carefully walked him towards the tree he had fallen from and a nearby wood pile. He seemed perfectly content hitching a ride to safety.
He spent most of the early afternoon eating ants and sleeping near the woodpile. Once he grew bored with that location, he hopped over to the dog kennel. He squawked quite a bit as he fought through a few obstacles on his way, finally making his way to the top of a tree stump where he dozed off. It wasn’t long before he started squawking like crazy. Mom (or dad) had showed up with a meal…and what I’m pretty sure amounted to a lecture.
The visit was short, but two Blue Jays (most likely his parents) were suddenly very intent on keeping an eye on Little Jay from the trees above. With mom and dad back on duty, I headed inside to get some supper ready.
An hour or so later, I brought my supper out to the picnic table and noticed that Little Jay had decided to nap on another tree stump that was easily accessible to any predator in the area. That’s when I noticed the neighborhood cat who is wickedly talented at fishing chipmunks right out of their holes was in stalk mode and heading toward Little Jay. I bolted between the two and ended up “dancing” with the cat until he finally gave up and ran away. (I happened to be on a call about a potential job at the time.) Little Jay never budged. Either he was oblivious to the danger or super confident in his ability to survive.
He continued to sleep on that stump for another hour or so. My daughter set up a study area so she could keep an eye on him, since his parents seemed to have taken off for the evening. As soon as he woke up, Little Jay started exploring, squawking, chirping, and eating.
We decided we should set him up in the kennel again to keep the cats away, so I gave him a “lift” on my shoe. He didn’t seem to want to stay there this time and made his way to a thorny bush at the back of our property, where he found a fallen branch to nap on. The bush was right on a deer path that’s also often used by the neighborhood cats. He was content there, so I decided to let him be for a while. How could I know if my “help” was really helpful to him anyway?
I checked on Little Jay one last time last night. He appeared to be hungry, so I grabbed a few blackberries near the deer trail, mashed them just a bit, and set them on a leaf near him. He squawked and opened his beak as though he wanted to be fed, but I didn’t want him to get too comfortable with me. He finally gave up and hopped off his branch to gobble up the berries. He quickly hopped back to his branch for another nap.
He was gone by the morning…without a trace, thankfully. I’m sure he’s forgotten about me and my daughter, but it was quite the experience while it lasted. In less than 36 hours, Little Jay reminded me of a few things I have been struggling with:
- Sometimes life knocks us down (and it sucks)—we can just lay there and hope help arrives, or we can find a way to get back up.
- Feeling lost and confused are required if we want to find our own way.
- Risks are necessary to learn and grow.
- Constantly fearing predators and danger is just a distraction from our goals.
- Ask for help but be ready to tackle the problem on your own.
- Help isn’t always helpful.
- Just keep hopping.
- Moving on is easier when you know your goals.
Little Jay seemed to know that he had one goal: survival. He didn’t let distractions or obstacles stop him—he just focused on his goal and let everything else happen as it may. It’s time that I do the same.