A Bird in the Hand

I walk outside to the garden early most mornings, and with a loud squawk our resident scrub jays swoop in. They perch on a trellis or tree branch across the yard but in plain sight, and cock their heads at me. I sigh, go back in to grab the peanuts I’d forgotten, and scatter a few on the patio.

Then I can sit with my laptop and coffee, or putter in the garden, watching them from the corner of my eye. They whirr and click as they dart in, barely touch down as they grab hold of a nut, and fly off. If I’m at a distance they might pause to test out several nuts, as if they’re weighing them to see which is biggest, or perhaps making sure they’re not rotten. Sometimes they drop and then pick them up to get a better grip before flying off. Then it’s back to the branch or trellis, and holding the shell with their sharp claws, peck at it and eat the nut. But when I’m close they don’t bother with all that – they snatch and fly, sometimes hiding under cover.

Sometimes they cache the nut instead, burying it beneath soil, leaves, or bark, furtively poking and tucking it in, while glancing around to see if anyone is watching. Or they’ll do what we call a fake cache, pushing it under leaves or soil, and then after looking around, quickly pick it up and fly off. Ha, take that Squirrel! So there Crow!

This summer the jays have grown more comfortable with me. They land nearby, just out of reach, nervously checking me out while keeping a close eye on the sky above. One caw, a shadow overhead, or a clumsy movement from me, and they take off in a blur.

Occasionally I’ve tried luring them closer without success, but this week I started a concerted campaign, determined to win their trust. I start with a few nuts on the far side of the table, then closer and closer until they’re next to me. The jays are watchful but eager and willing. They sidle in, sometimes hopping, a few sideways steps at a time. Sometimes they’ll fly off before they get their nut due to some disturbance I hadn’t noticed.

Finally, to my huge delight, they began taking the nut directly from me, snatching it up from my outstretched hand or tugging it away from my thumb and finger. They don’t linger – once it’s in their beak they jump away and fly, or go some distance before dropping it for a better grasp.

I’m thrilled by the awkward way they land, legs askew, head cocked, the wary or curious look on their faces as they approach, examining me while remaining watchful. The whoosh of cool air from their wings, the soft brush of feathers on my hand, the hard tap of their beak on my skin is intoxicating. When the nuts are gone they perch nearby waiting, watching, and with a squawk give up and comb through the garden for nature’s bounty, a worm, or a rediscovered peanut.

Taking pictures with my phone is awkward. They’re fast, unpredictably darting in all directions and a little clumsy on the takeoffs and landings. So many photo attempts, and I now have a large collection of wingblurs, a head poking into the frame, and many tails in retreat. Check out my 1 minute video.

Song sparrow, so sweet

Meanwhile the fearless song sparrows, several of them, peck around my feet for the seeds that I put out, plus whatever else they can find. They dip into the dish of water we put out in the heat, and venture into the house or garage if I leave the door open. There must have been birds at my old house, but I don’t know that I ever bothered to notice them other than feeling annoyed at the murder of crows roosting in the acacia tree. But now I have room in my heart, and the welcome mat is out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In one morning Alan spotted 11 different bird species in the yard (and one surprise furry bird) at once – after all, it is blueberry season. While you’re over at his blog, check out his other photo collections and give him a follow.

14 thoughts on “A Bird in the Hand

  1. What a great way to begin my Sunday! I rarely see them in my neighborhood so to get these stunning portraits is pure delight. I just love them! When a bird seems to gravitate toward me or shows up more frequently than can be easily explained away I always wonder about their spiritual meaning. My searching seems to suggest that their presence might be telling you that you can tackle tough issues with ease. I can’t tell you how tickled I am to know that you have such affection for these smart, beautiful creatures. Every photo is a gem. (Alan’s too!) You should write a childrens book about this!

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    • I’m so glad they are unique to someone, as I often think of them as our pigeons in the park. I’ll keep in mind that perhaps with a brave little scrub jay by my side perhaps I can take on anything! Thank you Bonnie Rae, as always.


  2. Fantabulous! And the video is hilarious and perfect. If I have scrub jays here, I’ve not noticed them. Which is not surprising. This reminds me of the crow my dad took to feeding, putting food on the deck rail. Every d*** morning at 5:00 the d*** crow would arrive above my bedroom window, screaming for his entitled food. I am in awe of your ability to feed and photograph simultaneously without scaring it away. Also hooray Alan!

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  3. Thank you Gretchen. I might get better results if I were more regular in my habits, but I resist, I resist. But I love that your father did that, and it seems he also trained YOU to wake at 5 every morning!
    It seems ridiculous sometimes to juggle peanuts and birds and phone and laptop all at a go. Anything for art.

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  4. This was so entertaining! I can’t believe he took the peanut from your hand! And the way he sidesteps and hops. It reminds me of my exercise video. 🙂 so cute. Also, I love those long skinny tres in the background. They remind me of the trees I saw in Seattle on the metro from the airport. Only been to the west coast a few times and really love those trees…

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  5. Wonderful story!! Once again your patience and persistence pays off. Alas, our adventure is coming to an end. Tomorrow we head back to Copenhagen, to fly home on Wednesday. What an incredible experience we’ve had. I look forward to catching up with you guys soon! XX00


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nancy
    Your ovservation could with photos remind me of the Stellar vs. Regular Jay that often pranced in my backyard competing for leftvover table toast crumbs! A delight to watch ! Your photos et Alan’s capture their quirky hoping gait when not in flight! So glad you were patient to get them eating peanut from your paw!!

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  7. Pingback: World of Dew | Rivers and Roads PDX

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