Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jackie the Jay

It's Sunday morning. It's raining. I was on Facebook reading about some baby Wrens that a friend had found and was raising. It reminded me, as I am so often, of a baby Bluejay that I rescued when I was a very young girl.
At one time on Dewey Hill, before the Carroll family moved in, the Thigpens lived down beside the old Army Bunkers that Willie later used for his chicken coops. Joey and Debbie Thigpen were great playmates and we spent many happy hours doodle-bugging, climbing the giant oak tree in the 'circle' and playing in the 3 inches of swamp behind their house. It wasn't the swamp with alligators and other nefarious critters apt to attack, and devour unsuspecting children who frollicked amongst the saplings and stumps. Unfortunately this swamp was nothing more than a low, sandy swale, kept 3 to 4 inches deep in water that was fed by a freshwater spring. Tadpoles galore, little darting minnows that would never grow bigger than an inch long, and tall, slender trees that were easily bent over  provided a suitable, springy (and notably underfed) rendition of a galloping horse if you didn't mind losing control occasionally and getting tossed into the "river".
There was a tall oak on the left side of the Thigpen's house, draped in moss, and unfriendly to climbers since no branches were lower than the roof of the house. We spent hours in the shade there, our backs to the cool shadow above as we labored diligently to sift the elusive ant lion from it's snare.
After a long afternoon doing just such, my sister Jo and I wandered home to the call of "Sue Ellen! Jo Ann! Supper!!" yelled temptingly from the back door of our house.
After supper the excited call of my name from Debbie and Joey lured me out onto the front step (literally one step) to see what news they'd come to share. It was garbled at best but I could make out "baby bird" and did I want to come see it. Of course I did. I'd seen baby birds before and knew you weren't supposed to touch them with your hands because the mama bird wouldn't want to take care of it if it smelled like people. Along the way I found out that the baby was just under the big oak tree, wobbling in the sand, and that it didn't have any feathers or anthing. Absolutely new born!! So we ran, and finally out of breath we came to the side of the house and settled in a tight circle around the baby. Joey and Debbie had been warned by their mother not to touch the bird. Even as small as we were we knew the little thing didn't stand a chance down on the ground without it's mother and we knew it couldn't fly because it had no feathers at all. We wondered what to do. Finally Debbie, and then Joey, said " Why don't you take it to your house?" Well, why DIDN'T I? I hadn't been told not to touch it, after all. And I knew I didn't want it to die. So I gently lifted it up and cradled it in my hands and walked home, all the while assuring the baby that all would be well and that I'd take good care of him.
Mama didn't seem to mind that I'd rescued a wild bird. It was so tiny we had no idea of what kind of bird it was. We found a shoe box and I shredded some newspaper for the bottom and then grabbed a handful of soft grass from the side yard. I had no idea what to feed this little thing so Mama suggested I soak a peice of bread in water and feed it. I did and he ate it! A day or two later it came to me that the bird might eat bugs. Some did, I knew. "The Early Bird Gets The Worm" ...
My Daddy had gotten wise in how to save money he might be giving to the tackle shops and the bait stores and he had an old iron bathtub in the backyard that he raised the little red wrigler fishing worms in. It was nasty business but I went out and took one of the worms from the bed. Mama let me have an old butterknife and I diced the worm into half inch segments which I offered to my little baby bird. He gobbled them down, and ate a little more of the watered bread too, and then slept, all cozy and snug in his little nest. Over the days to follow, little spikes (pinfeathers) began to sprout and he looked like a tiny porcupine with a big yellow cave for a mouth. It was cute! A week went by and he was doing great. I had to go to school but I would always chop up a worm before I went so that Mama could feed him while I was at school. After a few more days he began looking more like a bird than anything and it was no time at all before his colors came and I knew I had a baby Bluejay, and it was a male. I named him Jackie.
Jackie was about 3 weeks old when he decided I was his mother. He wobbled behind me anywhere I went in the house and yelled at me when he was hungry. He slept in his shoe box until someone gave me a little bird cage for him. Day after day he grew, and I knew it was time to let him go because he had all of his feathers.  He didn't know how to fly, however. It was my job to teach him this, and after putting if off (no Mother wants her baby to leave the nest) as long as I could, I took Jackie outside one afternoon and gently tossed him into the air. After a few attempts and failures, he flew! He flew over to the Crepe Myrtle tree and perched on the limb a moment. Then he hopped off and flew over to me, landing on my head and grooming my hair by pulling through his beak. I lifted him off and tossed him to the air again and he flew up and around the backyard and landed in the Chinaberry tree beside the back porch.  I turned to walk into the house and he followed me, landing on my shoulder, screaming at me, I would guess, to stop tossing him up into the air. Once more I did, and once more he came back to me. He wasn't going to leave. After that I never tried to make him fly away. He went outside with me, and came inside with me. While I was at school he was my Mama's companion. While she swept the floor he would fly up and ride the tip of the broom handle. I came home from school one day and Mama was napping on the sofa. Sitting snugly on her chest, napping also, was Jackie.
I think Mama loved that bird as much as I did. And I think he loved us in turn. He was popular with the neighborhood kids, and Joey and Debbie Thigpen visited often, offerings ready in the way of a cricket, or a furry caterpillar or a piece of bologna now and then. Jackie loved all of it, as well as the attention.
I had him for a little over a year, and I think there couldn't have been a happier, more loved Bluejay in all the world.  At night Jackie slept in his cage on the front porch. One morning he was lying in the bottom of the cage. I don't know the life span of wild birds like Jackie. I don't know if it was his time to die or if he had gotten sick overnight. I will never know. I know that I have a special fondness for the Bluejays in spite of their reputation for being a rather mean and aggressive bird because I also know that they are intensely affectionate and are loyal little feathered friends if you raise them.
I can say that I honestly tried to set him free. He chose me.
We buried him in his little shoe box, wrapped in soft paper towels and an old washcloth.
I just glanced out of my window... and what do I see? A beautiful, large, male Bluejay!!! Wow... talk about coincidence! Or... is it?