This summer brought to light a hole in my enlightened, broad minded, magnanimous, social democrat’s mind:
I don’t like scrub jays. They are noisy and aggressive, don’t belong here, dive bomb juncos and finches and take over other birds’ nests. So I was told. I think. A long time ago (age 14 or so), I was a card-carrying member of the Society for Oregon Avian Research, and one of my fellow members dissed scrub jays as invaders from the south. I have repeated this as gospel ever since.
So, last year when a jay started eying the blueberry bushes, yapping when anyone or anything went near them and making off with berries in its beak, one by one as soon as they were ripe, I had no compunction about taking action.
I got a big net and covered all five of the bushes in the yard.
It was a pain. The net stuck to itself and the bushes. It was hard to pick berries because netting was in the way, and pulling it off ripped leaves and berries and twigs off too.
Worse, even though I staked the net down, the jay figured out how to get underneath it. About once a week, he’d get in there and flap around, feathers, leaves and berries flying. Trying to help him out made things worse, so I would just go away and hope for the best.
One afternoon, I found him on the patio, wings flattened and eyes closed. Familiar with that sense of dread upon discovering a dead animal you know you will have to remove?
Only the jay wasn’t dead. As soon as I made a move, the eyes opened. He popped up and flew away, a blueberry still in his beak. Score one for the jay.
This year as berry season approached, the jay again took up his post. I hauled out the net and considered it, and then had an imaginary conversation with the jay that went something like this (my part spoken aloud):
Me: “Get away from my berries.”
Bird: “Your berries?”
Me: “Yeah, my berries. I planted them, fertilized them, watered them.”
Bird: “Whoa. YOU planted them?”
Me: “OK, someone planted them for me.”
Bird: “And advised you which kinds of plants to buy, and picked them up wholesale for you and set up the irrigation system, so you don’t actually have to do any watering yourself. And you know darn good and well blueberries don’t like fertilizer.”
Bird: “And since you worked so hard to produce these berries, you aren’t willing to share even one with a poor, hardworking bird. For shame.”
I threw in the towel and left the net bundled in the garage. Let the stupid bird have the berries.
My reward? This year there is a bumper crop. The bushes are falling over with berries, so many we can hardly pick them all. The jay comes in of course, carefully avoids me, snatches a berry and zips back into the trees. Watching this balletic move, my better half pointed out that for a jay one berry is as big as an apple. How many can he eat, anyway? Not very many, it turns out.
And that stuff I’ve been telling people about scrub jays all these years? Bogus. True, scrub jays are moving north and their numbers rising, but does that mean they don’t belong here? I moved here from somewhere else and the population of my species is increasing, too. Take over other birds’ nests? Nyet. They make their own, in a joint effort with a partner. It takes ten days. They are smart. Their body to brain mass ratio rivals that of chimpanzees, and they are the only non-primate known to plan for the future. They watch other birds bury acorns and then dig the acorns up and steal them. It’s true that they are aggressive defenders of their territory, but so are hummingbirds and dogs. So … what was it I didn’t like about jays?
It is tempting to expand this little object lesson to the political arena, to make acid comments about, say, Mitt Romney’s poster self made man Brian Maloney of Middlesex Truck and Coach who told the press “The government didn’t help — at all” him start his business, well, except for a startup bond and a $560,000 federal contract to overhaul ten buses — but I won’t. I’m the one who spread untruths about jays and tried to take credit for work I didn’t do. It was me who stuck up nets as a quick fix to keep out unwanted aliens. Mr. Maloney could probably drive one of his trucks through my blind spots, but no need to get nasty. Hey, I got my blueberries, the jay got his, and the dang net is getting deep-sixed. Here’s to hard work and resourcefulness, small businesses and small birds, acknowledging the help we get and sharing the bounty. Meanwhile, I wonder if my jay isn’t a little more resourceful than I give him credit for? Truckload of Blueberries Ripped Off