When I moved our dancing circus a few feet away from the prized object, I saw a Steller's Jay chick on its side, eye fixed and open, foot curled. My son crawled out from his basement hole to haul Miro inside while I dragged Alanis, who refuses to go indoors through the downstairs door, back up the gravel path and ouch-- I realized I had run down that path barefoot and had to walk back up on winter-tender feet.
This time I put on sandals before hurrying back outside. I picked up the “dead” chick to discover it was alive, in shock, and injured. The parent birds were still screaming overhead. If you click on the link above, you can hear some normal Steller sounds but not the ear-pounding, heart-thudding alarm calls which sound similar to a human mother screeching, "Get out of the road!" to her four-year-old child.
The jays were screeching at their rivals and enemies, the crows. The day before I had seen this pair mobbing a crow away to the opposite yard and now I knew why. Crows will eat other young birds and a fledgling in the nest or on the ground is crow food.
A fluttering drew my attention to the adjacent side of the fence and there was another jay chick flapping up and falling back down, unable to gain enough height to get on the 6-ft fence top. What to do first? Maybe if I could get the uninjured one up to a branch, he could figure out the rest while the parents yelled encouragement. I gently replaced the injured chick and stalked the other, catching him as he dove past me. Just as I was cupping my hands over him, he jumped away and into the bushes.
The uninjured one got about five feet off the ground and hid in the butterfly bush. He would be able to fend for himself, if he lived long enough.Wild birds learn to fly from the ground, like the old-fashioned way of teaching a human child to swim by throwing him off the dock. The chick may spend up to a week on the ground while the parents feed it, watch over it, and shout encouragement. You can see why so few survive to adulthood.
I gathered his injured nestmate into a shoe box and drove him (or her) to PAWS wildlife center where I handed over the bird and a donation.
Over the next few days I heard outbreaks of the same shrieks coming from Guinevere the Great Dane’s yard. It has been quiet today and I am watching a blue shape flutter from branch to branch in an evergreen across the way, too far to tell if it’s a full grown bird or the youngster practicing his skills. If something got it, the parents would have mobbed and dive-bombed the predator and uttered heartrending screams until the internal chemistry attaching them to the chick faded. Mourning would end and they would go on to the next task. I wish it were that simple for us.
Stellers Jays and crows are the dominant birds around here; they are not good news for songbirds. They eat songbird chicks and eggs and chase them from food sources. They are intelligent and tough survivors. The parent birds will undoubtedly raise a second clutch before the season is over. So why did I spend a morning and drive 30 miles to rescue a jay?
Because it was there.
Home is somewhere in those trees.