Blue Trickster

I had just spent 30 minutes trying to find a red-tailed hawk in the tree above me. It was a weak call but clearly a hawk. The bird seemed to be moving from branch to branch. Finally, I found it. Except, it wasn’t a hawk. A blue jay peered down at me and made the call. I could see a twinkle in his eye and was convinced he was laughing at me.

Blue jays, a family member of crows and ravens, are one of the most identifiable birds in our area. They regularly come to feeders and will even steal dog food, if we leave it out. Jays spend a good deal of time finding and storing food for later. In fact, they are known for their ability to remember the location of thousands of acorns, beechnuts and other foods they stash during the fall. They are also not above stealing from each other, if they find these hidden treats. Another trick they have learned is to make a hawk call to scare other birds into dropping food and fleeing.

Blue jay

Blue jay

Some people don’t like blue jays because they are aggressive toward other smaller birds. And, it’s true, blue jays can be bullies, going so far as to rob eggs and chicks from other song birds during nesting season.

Still, I like these bold and dashing birds. One reason is the habit blue jays have of gathering together to chase away predators. This is a behavior known as “mobbing”. For several weeks now, a group of blue jays start their morning screaming at something in my back yard. I can’t resist it. When I hear them start their daily commotion, I rush out to see if they’ve found a hawk, an owl or some other interesting predator. And, every morning, I find them fussing at some poor, beleaguered squirrel they’ve decided they don’t like. I don’t know what that squirrel does to make them so mad. Then again, maybe it’s not the squirrel. Maybe they know they can trick me into coming out in my slippers and pajamas. Sometimes I swear I see a twinkle in the eyes of one of those blue tricksters.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to info@mahoosuc.org.