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Jemima Jay Update, August 22

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Against all expectations and hopes, Jemima Jay is still coming in to visit and wolf down delicious food at the Secret Studio Feeder. I watch her every day, watch her interacting with the resident jays, and I see her being assimilated into their ranks. Nothing gives me more joy than knowing this precious bird is on her way to full jay-dom, unhampered by strange notions about Chet Baker and humans, and whether or not she is a dog, a person, or a jay. She's all blue jay!

Jem throws me a curveball every now and then. The latest was when she showed up bald, on August 13. Oh Jemima! What now?

In these photos, you can see that even as she goes suddenly bald (a condition called "catastrophic molt" by we ornithological types), the tiny pin feathers are already emerging in a fashionable blue Mohawk on her skull.

Upper: Aug. 21
Lower: Aug. 13. There's hope for this hideous bird!!

I did a little research and found that the pendulum of opinion on what causes baldness in blue jays and cardinals (the two backyard species that most often show it) has swung away from "Feather mites!" and toward "It just happens to some jays and cardinals."

For years, I repeated the "just so story" that feather mites caused this baldness, and the reason it was only on the head and neck was because the bird couldn't reach those places to preen away the mites. Well. Apparently, no one has ever recovered a follicular mite from a bald cardinal. And the fact that the pinfeathers are coming in like crazy even as the old feathers fall out argues against any infestation or disease. So now I answer, "Catastrophic head molt appears to be a normal molt process for some individual birds. The feathers will grow back." 

And sure enough, here's how she looked on August 21. Not fabulous, but not vulturine, either. Her feathers are coming in like gangbusters. Her neck feathers fell out right after the head feathers so I expect her gray-blue cowl and black collar to come in pretty soon. I can see pinfeathers there. 

It's always something with this bird, but I learn so much from her. She is my teacher, my muse, my joy. 

When anyone she knows comes home up the driveway, Jemima sounds a great clamor of Jay! calls. She tootles and chirrups. It's so wonderful to be welcomed thus.

And when it thunders she yells her head off and heads for the prune hedge where she's always gone in the rain. 

Eating a pecan bit. I cook up minced chicken and brown rice, and offer her sweet corn, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon, pecan halves and walnuts, too. I find that if I crumble the pecans and walnuts she'll hang around longer. If I put out halves, she just absconds with them and I don't get a visit with her. 

When Phoebe came home from her summer job in August, I had little doubt that Jemima noted that. She is always watching us out in the yard, watching me in the garden. She may not come down and steal snap peas from me, but she knows I'm there and keeps tabs. So two mornings later, when Phoebe got up early enough to see Jem at the studio feeder, Jemima saw her through the window. 

She began to tootle excitedly and give the little chimplike hit hit hit calls that jays use when they're talking to each other. She came down to the open studio window, but she didn't eat. She stood up as tall as she could and made eye contact with Phoebe, her favorite girl. She hopped up on the windowsill, as if to come inside. We held our breath, gasped. She thought better of hopping into the room, but kept tootling. As she was almost always silent at the feeder, this was a big deal. Phoebe spoke to her and greeted her and told her how happy she was to see her beautiful blue angel. I had my phone on Video, but unbeknownst to me, it hadn't started recording.  I missed the whole thing, including Phoebe's tears on being so clearly recognized, acknowledged and welcomed after being gone since mid-June. It was so, so sweet. And it will live only in our memories.

 However this is still one of the best-documented blue jays on the planet. I've got lots of other videos!

Lately, Jem has been showing up with a pal. As luck would have it, this juvenile jay is the most distinctive looking blue jay I've ever seen. We've no idea what sex it is, but with that heavy eye makeup, we thought it might be a girl. Hey, we've got a 50% chance of being right. Phoebe named her Maybelline.  Phoebe and her dad are the Namers in this family. 

Craptastic shot, I know--she was in mid-leap, and the light was bad.

This is somewhat better. Just look at the black line over the white eyebrow--very unusual.  The thick heavy black line right through the eye. And--wonder of wonders-- the black line around the eye! To me, she looks like a caricature. Just a bit too adorable. But I adore this bird!

Just to compare facial markings, here's a portrait of my beloved one-legged Peg, whom many of you will remember from years past (2014-2015). Peg had a very, very white face for a blue jay, and she was distinctive in her own way, too. I'm so glad I had a chance to love and help Peg for two winters. She primed me for loving Jemima the way I do. And Jemima has opened the world of blue jays to me as no one else could. I have great hope of being able to distinguish at least some of my blue jays by facial markings, the way I've been able to distinguish some of the deer around here. It won't be easy, but I'm up for the challenge. My camera is my best ally in that pursuit.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that all is well, if a bit ragged, in Jemimaland, and I'm deep into my relationship with and study of this extraordinary individual. I know it will probably end, at least for the winter, when she migrates in September or October, so I'm holding on to every moment with her and her growing clan. Peg taught me that the blue jays who come here in November are a different cohort from the summer breeders. It's probable that the winter birds come from much farther north, and they may displace our breeders, who move south in fall. Come April, the northern birds head back to their boreal breeding grounds, and our summer jays return from wherever they spent the winter. Oh how I'd love to know where Jemima goes, if she does leave. She's got a heap of feather growing to do before she does!

This is a very special video, made August 20. It's one of those serendipitous videos that quite accidentally has a little plot to it. You can see Maybelline's eye makeup even through the window. 

Isn't that sweet?

This one, made today (August 22) is even more interesting. Jem comes down and fills her crop with chicken and rice. Leaves the feeder with an enticing chunk of chicken. What does Maybelline do? Tries to grab that chunk, then begs from Jemima!! Ha ha ha!! Nice try, Maybelline. Her little begging calls are so dear, but Jem doesn't fall for it. So Maybelline flirts with getting into the feeder by herself. Chickens out at the last minute.

 I think it's just a matter of time before Maybelline conquers her fear of me and helps herself to this wonderful repast. She's welcome to it!

Yes, I'm the Crazy Jay Lady now. And what a privilege it is to be accepted in their ranks, to be permitted to peek into their lives and puzzle over their doings. I thought you'd like a Jemima Jay update. If I've been quiet lately, it's because I'm busy with my blue jay studies.


So nice to get updates on my favorite bird. I like the way Jemima sits on the fence between "I'm a grown ass wild Jay dammit!" And in the next moment she's popping in for a bite and rejoicing at Phoebe's return.
Keep sharing her.

I would cry too Phoebe!

The world needs more crazy jay ladies!

This update warms my heart and brightens my day! I always love when I can differentiate between individuals within a species. There is currently a blue jay around here who has a distinctive "accent": his call is decidedly more cockatiel than bluejay. We call him "Cockajay". When we first heard him, we looked outside to see where the poor escaped 'tiel was. But no, it was the jay who was bathing in our pond. I suppose that he must have been raised next to a window where he could hear a cockatiel and liked the sound. He certainly stands out, at least when he opens his mouth!

Posted by Anonymous August 23, 2017 at 3:48 AM

August 22 is my birthday, and your blog was my favorite birthday (bird-day) gift. I appreciate your writing so very much and sharing your experiences with all of us!

Chicken, you making little cannibals.

This is SO awesome! Thank you for sharing this!#bluejaylove

Dear Julie,
Thanks for starting my day off to a wonderful start!! Love all your blog postings.
Irene and Saul

Thanks for the info. We have two "bald" cardinals, male and female, and a bald jay, so it's interesting to know more. Also, I didn't realize that our summer and winter blue jays are not the same birds (I live in Canton). Is this true of our other winter feeder birds?

Julie, we had a 'bald' male Red Winged Black Bird at our feeder last summer that acted completely healthy in a Yul Brenner sort of way.

Thank you for your heartwarming stories. I am hoping that Maybelline will join Jemima on the feeder! Please keep up updated on the JayGirls.

Julie, thank you for the update on Jemima. She has a lot of fans. I can just imagine the reunion between her and Phoebe, makes me all teary eyed. Hope that Maybelline sticks around too. I love when there are little identifying marks on birds. Thanks also for putting words to what Jays say. I can always get it in my mind but have had a harder time describing it to other people.

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