THE blue-jay came out of the egg with his mind made up. He always knew exactly what he wanted, and never doubted that he knew how to get it. I wrote of this bird some time ago, but he was then a comparatively new acquaintance. He lived with us many months after that, and became much more familiar ; for besides being slow to feel thoroughly at home, he was very young, and he grew in wisdom with age. So I have more to say of him.
Human society was necessary to the jay ; he cared for the other birds of the room only as objects on which to play tricks for his own amusement. He was peculiar, too, in never having more than one friend at a time, and was very decided in his opinions of people, having a distinctly different reception for each one of the household, as well as for strangers. His mistress was always his prime favorite ; and although, during my absence from home, he adopted some one temporarily in my place, he was never so affectionate to that one as to me, and the instant I returned resumed his old relations to each of us.
To his best beloved this bird never squawked or whistled ; on the contrary, he talked in low, sweet tones, hardly more than a murmur, slightly lifting and quivering his wings, sidling as near as he could get, and if I put my face down to him touching my cheek or lips gently with his beak, in little taps, like kisses. Any one else in that position would receive a violent peck. Sometimes, when I was busy, and therefore silent a long time, and the jay was in his cage, where I was obliged to put him in order to work at all, he stood perfectly quiet and motionless an hour at a time ; moving only when he was hungry, and apparently watching me every instant, — a performance very uncommon in a bird, who usually has some interests of his own, however fond he may be of a person. The moment I spoke to Him his whole manner changed. He came at once as near as he could, about four ^'eet from me, and began to talk, holding his tail on one side, and both wings spread to their fullest extent and parallel with his back. In this attitude he hopped up and down his three perches, always as near my side as possible, and evidently in great excitement. If, during this exhibition, any one came in, his wings instantly dropped, though he did not stop talking to me. This action of the wings showed extreme affection, and must not be profaned by common eyes. When I came close and replied to him, his agitation was almost painful to see, — such loving tones, such gentle kisses, such struggles to express himself. Not only did he insist on sharing his dainties with me, offering me mocking-bird food or bread and milk in the most loving way, but he wished to share mine ; ice-cream he delighted in, cake he was as fond of as any child, and candy he always begged for, though, instead of eating it, he hid it somewhere about the room, — under my pillow, or between the leaves of a book, all sticky as it was from his mouth.
Second in the blue-jay’s affections was a lady to whom at first he took a great dislike. She tried her best to win him, talking to him, treating him to various tidbits, and offering him the hospitality of her room, — separated from the birdroom by a passage, — and above all dancing with him. These attentions in time secured her a warm place in his regards, though his treatment of her was very different from that reserved for me. He was always gentle with me, while in her society he exhibited all his noisy accomplishments, — squawked, whistled and screamed, stamped his feet, and jounced (the only word to describe a certain raising and violent dropping of the body without lifting the feet). He ran after her when she left the room ; he pecked her hand, and flew up at her face. Gradually, as he grew to like her better, the more violent demonstrations ceased; but he was always boisterous with her, generally expected a half-fight, half-frolic, and I must say never failed to enjoy it greatly.
The dance spoken of was droll. His chosen place for this indulgence was the back of a tall chair. His friend stood before this, whistled, bowed, and moved her head up and down as if dancing; and he on his perch did the same, jumping up and down in a similar way, answering her whistle for whistle, moving his feet, sidling from one side to the other, curtsying, lowering the body and flattening the head feathers, then rising, stamping his feet, and drooping his wings. This he kept up as long as she played second to him.
When this playfellow went away, the jay missed his dances and frolics. He flew into her empty room, perched on the back of the rocking-chair, where he had been wont to stand and pull her hair, and began a peculiar cry. Again and again he repeated it, louder and louder each time, till it ended in a squawk, impatient and angry, as much as to say, “ Why don’t you answer ? ” After awhile he began to whistle the notes she used to imitate; finding that this brought no response, he returned to the cry ; and when at last he had exhausted all his resources, he came back to my desk, and consoled himself by talking to me.
A young lady in the family he greeted by flying at her, alighting on her chairback, clawing her neck, and squawking ; and before a youth who often teased him he trailed his wings on the floor, tail spread and dragging also, uttering a curious " Obble ! obble ! " something like the cry of a turkey. The head of the household he met with stamping of the feet, and no sound; while at a maid who came in to sweep he always flew furiously, aiming for her head, and invariably frightening her half out of her wits.
The jay was extremely wary about anything like a trap, and being always on the lookout for one, he sometimes, like bigger persons, fooled himself badly. Finding him fond of standing on a set of turning bookshelves, I thought to please him by arranging over it a convenient resting-place. He watched me with great interest, but, when I had finished, declined to use the perch, though ordinarily nothing could keep him from trying every new thing. I put a bait upon it, in the shape of bits of gumdrops, a favorite delicacy ; but he plainly saw that I wanted him to go on it, and in the face of the fact that I had heretofore tried to keep him off the papers and magazines lying there, he decided that it was suspicions. He flew so as almost to touch the stick, and hovered before it to snatch off the candy placed there ; but alight on it he would not, and did not, though I kept it in place a week.
In many ways this bird was wise; he knew exactly where to deliver his blows to effect what he desired. A cage door being fastened with fine wire, he never wasted a stroke upon the door, but gave telling blows directly upon the wire. A rubber band was looped about a rod for him to play with, in the expectation that he would pull on it and make sport; but he disappointed us all by hammering at the loop, until he loosened it and easily pulled it off. Again it was tied on with strong linen thread ; he turned his whole attention to the knot of the latter, till it yielded and was disposed of also.
Dear as was this bird, he was a more than usually troublesome pet. My desk became his favorite playground, and havoc indeed he made with the things upon it; snatching and running off with paper, pen, or any small object, destroying boxes, and injuring books. Finally, in self-defense, I adopted the plan of laying over it every morning a woolen cloth, which must be lifted every time anything was taken from the desk. This arrangement did not please my small friend in blue, and he took pains to express his displeasure in the most emphatic way. He came down upon the cover, tramped all over it, and sought small holes in it, through which to thrust his bill. One day he was busily engaged in hammering a book through an opening, and to cure him of the trick I slipped my hand under, caught his beak between two fingers, and Held, it a moment. This amazed, but did not alarm the bird; on the contrary, he plainly decided to persevere till he found out the secret. He pecked the mounds made by my fingers; he stooped and looked into the hole, and then probed again. This time I held him longer, so that he had to struggle and beat his wings to get away, and then he walked off indignantly. Still he was not satisfied about that mystery, and in a moment he was back again, trying in new ways to penetrate it. I was tired before he was. He was baffled only temporarily ; he soon learned to draw up the fabric, hold the slack under one foot while he pulled it still further, and thus soon reach anything he desired.
The blue-jay always pried into packages by pecking a hole in the wrapper, and examining the contents through that; and boxes he opened by delivering upward blows under the edge of the cover. The waste-basket he nearly emptied from the outside, by dragging papers through the openings in the weaving. Seeing two or three unmounted photographs put into a book, he went speedily for that volume, thrust his beak into the slight opening made by the pictures, and pulled them out, flying at once across the room with one in his mouth. It was secured and put back, and the book held down by a heavy weight; but he found the place at once, and repeated the naughtiness. The book had to be completely covered up before the photographs were safe.
After the blue-jay had put on a new suit of feathers he flew with great ease, and selected for a retreat the top of a door into the passage-way mentioned, which usually stood open. It was not long before his curiosity was roused to know what was outside the door that so often swallowed up his friends, — that into the hall. He resolved to find out, and to that end, when stationed on the elevated perch of his choice, held himself in readiness, upon the exit of any one, to fly out. He did not wish to get away ; he merely took a turn in the hall, and came back ; and once, when accidentally left in that unfamiliar place, he stayed in the bathroom, with window wide open, for half an hour before he was found. He became so expert in flying out of the door that it was a difficult matter to pass through without his company; we had to train ourselves in sleight of hand to outwit him. There were two ways of getting the better of him ; mere suddenness was of no use, — he was much quicker than we were. One way was to go to the room on the other side of the passage, where he was sure to follow, and before he fairly settled there, to dodge back and shut the door, — a proceeding so unexpected that he never learned to allow for it. The other way was to go to the hall door, as if intending to open it; instantly the bird swooped down, ready to slip out also, but finding the way closed, swept around the room and alighted somewhere. This was the second to open the door and step out, for he always paused a moment before flying again.
The only notice the jay ever took of the birds, as said above, was to tease them, or put them in a flutter ; as society he plainly despised them. They soon learned to regard him as a sort of infernal machine, liable at any moment to explode ; and they were fully justified, for he was fond of surprising them by unexpectedly flying around the room, tail spread, feathers rustling, squawking madly in a loud voice. He usually managed, in his career, to sweep close over the head of every bird, of course frightening them off their perches, and thus to put the whole room into a panic. They took refuge anywhere, — under the bed, behind the chairs, against the wires, and on the floor, — while the mischief-maker circled around, filling the air with shrieks, then suddenly dropped to the round of a chair, and calmly dressed his feathers, as if he had merely been exercising his wings.
Poor little fellow ! he was hardly more than a baby, and not very brave. A big grasshopper which once got into the room afforded him great excitement and the spectators much amusement. He saw it before his cage was opened, and as soon as he came out he went after it. The insect hopped up three feet, and so startled the bird that he jumped almost as high. When it alighted he picked it up, but, seeming not to know what to do with it, soon dropped it. Again it hopped, and again the jay repeated his bound; and this performance went on for some minutes, one of the drollest of sights, — his cautious approach, the spring of the insect, and his instant copy of the same, as if in emulation. After being picked up several times the grasshopper was disabled ; then when the bird came near, it lifted its wings, plainly to scare its persecutor ; it did awe him. Meanwhile, an orchard oriole had been eagerly looking on, and on one occasion that the grasshopper was dropped he pounced upon it, and carried it off to a chair, where he proceeded to eat it, though it was so big as to be almost unmanageable. The jay did not like being deprived of his plaything. He ran after the thief, and stood on the floor, uttering a low cry while watching the operation. In the oriole’s moving the clumsy insect fell to the floor, when the jay snatched it; and it was evident that he had got a new idea about its use, for he carried it under a chair and demolished it completely, — not even a wing remained.
More disturbing to the jay, strange as it may seem, was a tree. It was really touching to see a bird afraid of this, but the poor youngster had been taken from the nest to a house. A Christmas tree was brought into the bird-room to please the residents there, when, to our amazement, the jay went into a wild fright, flew madly around near the ceiling, squawking, and making the other birds think something terrible had happened. He flew till he was breathless, and was evidently very much distressed. For three or four days he was equally alarmed, the moment he caught sight of it in the morning and whenever I moved it an inch, though the other birds liked it, and were on it half the time. W hen he did get used to it, he did not go on it, but to the standard below, where he could pick the needle-like leaves, and carry them off to hide about the room.
The blue-jay took his bath in an original way, as he did everything else. First, he stood beside the wide, shallow dish, looked at it, then at me and all around the room, one wing drooping and the other laid jauntily over the back, while he talked in a low tone, as if he said, “ If anybody is going to object, now is the time.” No one ventured to dispute his right, and suddenly he plumped into the middle, neither alighting on the edge nor testing the water. Then there was a lively frolic, with tail spread, crest raised, wings beating, and the water flying several feet around. He was a very beautiful bird when in perfect plumage. There were six distinct shades of blue, besides rich velvety black, snowy white, delicate dove color, and blue-gray. He is too well known to need description, but a jay is not often so closely seen, when alive and in perfection of plumage. This bird had a charming way of folding his wings that hid all the plain blue-gray. When held thus, and laid together over the back, there were displayed first the beautiful tail, with broad white edges to the feathers; above it the wings looking like a square cut mantle, of the same colors ; above this a deep pointed shoulder cape, of rich violet blue, the feathers fluffed up loosely; and at the top of all his exquisite crest.
Olive Thorne Miller.