I enjoy birds at the best of times, and in these stay-at-home times, they are helping me keep my sanity. I spend a lot of time at the little blue table that looks out on the backyard. I do most of my reading and writing there, where I spend nearly as much time looking outside as I do looking at paper.
I feed the birds and put out fresh water daily, and they reward me by showing up. One bird that doesn’t show up as often as I’d like is the blue jay. Maybe every two or three days I see a jay, usually getting a drink. I’ve tried putting out peanuts to attract blue jays, but the squirrels always get to them first. After a few trays of peanuts to the squirrels with nary a blue jay sighting, I decided on a new approach.
I waited until I heard a blue jay (they are quite vocal), and then I went out to the garage and got the peanuts. But by the time I put the peanuts out, the jay had left. I tried that a few times to no avail.
This morning it occurred to me: Bring the peanuts in the house. If you go outside with peanuts in your hand…. Well, blue jays are smart. I figured, the blue jay will associate me with the peanuts, and I will thus train the blue jay. So I went to the garage and filled a little container with peanuts, enough to last through the weekend (given the jays only show up every few days).
To my utter delight, a blue jay showed up within the hour. I was busy writing, and I hear this blue jay shriek. There it is, right in the little tree, six feet from the window I’m sitting by. I grab a few peanuts and hurry outside. The blue jay flies off. But not too far—just to the fence. I take a step out. The jay flies into the neighbor’s yard. I can still see it. It can see me.
I wait until it’s watching, and then I toss the peanuts, one by one, onto the sidewalk, clack! clack! clack! clack! Then I scurry back into the house. Within 30 seconds, the jay is grabbing a peanut. Like squirrels, blue jays stash food and come back for it later. This jay got all four peanuts stashed before the squirrels had any idea.
I am quite pleased. My plan is working much better and faster than expected!
About an hour later, I’m writing and I hear a blue jay trill. I look out the window and there is the jay, sitting in the little tree. I grab peanuts and bring them out. The jay flies off. I locate it, and toss the peanuts, clack! clack! clack! clack! Back in the house, the first peanut is gone before I get to the window.
On the third visit, the jay just sat in the tree until I noticed. I went out with a few more peanuts. Again, the jay beats the squirrels. So far, the squirrels haven’t gotten a single peanut. Unheard of.
But I decided silence wasn’t the best approach. After all, I spend less than half my time looking out the window.
It came back four more times (one time shrieking repeatedly on the overhead wire, which would have roused me out of even the most compelling book). Seven times I went out with peanuts. The sixth and seventh time, the squirrels showed up, and the jay lost one, and then two.
So it seems I got exactly what I wanted. The blue jay calls when it wants peanuts.
But I wonder: Who trained who here?
Even more, I wonder if it will come back tomorrow. Stay tuned!