Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jay is for January

Blue Jay drawing
I picked the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, for the January bird of my 2017 bird calendar because I love seeing the blue jays in the winter, their exquisite blue up against the snow or even against the browns of winter oak trees.  Their name includes cyan, a blue that is in between blue and green. When I looked up cyan, I found that the color is associated with making someone feel better and protected, perhaps that is why it is the color of so many swimming pools.  The color on the blue jay’s tail and back are closer to cyan than the feathers on its body.  In fact, those feathers that we see as blue are really more brownish—I have a blue jay feather and in some lights, it seems brownish gray.  But when it catches or reflects the light, it magically turns blue.  It is magic too—not simply pigment.  Cardinal feathers are red from pigment, but blue jay feathers have a structure that enables them to reflect blue light like the sky does.  They are living magic.

Blue jay males and females look the same.  They tend to mate for life, and the two work together to build the home for their babies.  The male gathers the materials and the female arranges them.  As Leslie Day writes, “The female incubates and broods four to six pale buff-bluish eggs with brown spots, while the male feeds insects to her and the nestlings when they hatch.”  This is a lovely arrangement, fair to all.  Blue jays are omnivores, so they also eat acorns, nuts, berries, and other fruits.  They bury acorns for winter eating and luckily for the forest, they sometimes forget where they are buried so that new oak trees grow. 

Like crows, blue jays are in the Corvidae family—a family of intelligent, curious, and playful birds.  Although blue jays have a reputation for aggressive behavior toward other birds, only a small percent of them actually do this.  And often it is a way of protecting their nest.  They are known to mob owls, squirrels, and even humans to defend their young.  But generally and especially in the winter, they bring color and beauty to the winterscape.  So when I went out for my walk on this snowy day, I searched the park for the spot of blue that means blue jays are about.