Scrub Jays

Only emotion endures.

1 Scrub jays stole crumbs from blackbirds and cowbirds. I ate my lunch on the patio of the student union and despised the jays, tossed the corner of a heel over their heads to the little birds, who jabbed sharp beaks, yellow eyes, stepping clumsily on twiggy legs. The sunlight through the trees waved a green coral shadow over them, over other students who didn't notice, and I was unsatisfied with my little retribution. Through the years, in the heat, in the field or park, feathers like steel temper, flashed from live oak, jays screeched unmusical, cocked their heads, swooped down and owned the place, scattering little birds like dry leaves. 2 Many condemn it as a nest robber, although in summer it is mainly insectivorous. These birds also eat acorns and have been described as “uphill planters,” counterbalancing the tendency of acorns to bounce downhill. The jays bury many more acorns than they consume and help regenerate oak forests that have been destroyed by fire or drought.1 3 The bird was in the laundry room. Another tenant, a young man awkward with his laundry, awkward with the baby bird, didn't know what to do about it. It wasn't old enough to fly, but on its wings were its first blue feathers. Out in the yard a white cat jumped up on the fence to catch two adult jays, who screeched, lighting from fence to roof without effort. So I caught the little one, put it in a box, carried it upstairs, put it on the porch, tried to feed it millet and sunflower seeds, not having the time to find insects for it. 4 It seemed all right on the second day of its captivity. On the third day, Gretchen and Kathryn said they saw its mother light on the porch and stick a bug down the baby's throat. But on the fourth day, in the morning, it was dead. When I came home from work I buried it, digging a hole with the claw of a hammer, in the dark under a tree. 5 The ungentleness of this bird, its principle contact its sharp beak, without hands or arms to hold its young, who are not dead just because they fall out of the nest, a strangeness like crying, its screeching is a dry crying in the throat.

29-30 May 1988

  1. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), pp. 630-631.