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Blue Jay Days

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It's been two weeks since I've posted, an eternity in the Zickiverse, but there is an excellent reason for that. I have met my Waterloo, and she came to me as a starving, dehydrated little 12-day-old lump of winsome, found by a kind teacher in the middle of the street and left in a safer spot to wait for parents who never came.  I started, via Facebook messages, to give her savior instructions on how and what to feed the tiny jay, and thought I'd make plans to meet in a few days to take the bird if she was successful in keeping it alive. I was planning to take the jay up to Columbus, to turn her over to the Ohio Wildlife Center, which is completely snowed under hundreds of birds and animals, and certainly doesn't need another baby bird to raise. I looked at the photo of this poor waif, sighed and let the wave roll over me. "Just bring her to the Bird Watcher's Digest office. I'll take care of her," I typed.  I was doomed, sucked in again, because you can't tell someone who's never done it exactly how to save a small life. These are things you must do yourself. 

By the time I'd fed and watered her and medicated her for some unknown ailment that made her listless and turned her droppings seafoam-green; by the time, four days later, her eyes finally showed a little sparkle (which I could see because she was now able to keep them open), I was sunk. I wasn't going to turn her over to anyone. I had to see this bird through.

May 16, ca. Day 12, the day she fell from her nest.

The thing about taking on a baby bird is that if you say yes, that's all you're going to do for the next month, month and a half, or two. I don't think people realize that when they pepper me with pleas for help, assuming that taking care of baby birds is what I do, right? I understand wanting to do the right thing. Getting in touch with someone who can offer help that helps is Step One. But I have to say it's a full-time job being that first stop for so many people. I finally engineered the removal of my home phone number from the state wildlife rehabber lists, had just begun to enjoy the fact that every phone ring didn't have a feathery problem for me to solve,  just in time to become, by default, a national baby bird rescue factotum, courtesy of Facebook. 

Checking out her new home, May 16 afternoon. She may just know how lucky she is. I sure do.

 I am only just grasping what it means to be easily accessible to 4,000 plus acquaintances, plus their friends, and their friends' friends, who are now all able to fire off questions and requests for advice and assistance at any hour, often accompanied by photos that squeeze my heart. Not just baby birds; it's birds fighting windows, birds in dryer vents, birds in cats' claws or found on the sidewalk, having fallen out of an eave. It's anything, and it's raining down on me so thickly I want to wear a hat. Who ya gonna ask? The workload is not trivial. It is causing me to seriously rethink my presence on social media, to think hard about the quality of my days, pre and post Facebook. I'm not taking phone calls all day long. I'm taking Facebook messages. Unless I'm hiding, which I spend more and more time doing. Hiding, and not blogging, because I can't. Between feeding the bird and feeding the Facebook requests for assistance, I'm stretched too thin. It's ridiculous.

Feeling much better, May 20, Day 16.

The work that goes into raising just one baby bird can be all-consuming. Baby birds need to be fed often, every half hour from dawn to dark; they need to be kept scrupulously clean, but they also need attention and love. All of which I gladly do, but I'm never really prepared for how labor-intensive it is to raise just one baby bird. And to be asked for help with dozens upon dozens of others, all day long. 

It all makes you kinda tired. 

I realize that I don't know how to deal with being immediately accessible to anyone. Everyone. I've been on Facebook since 2009, and it's been a blessing in so many ways. I've become much closer to people with whom I never would have been able to interact. I can see family baby, niece and nephew pictures, catch up with my dear Aunt Toot in Iowa, and yak with James in Honduras as easily as I can yak with Liam, and that's terrific. I can share all the fantastic things I find; teach and learn too. I can toot my horn and sell books and notecards and puzzles and CD's, publicize speaking engagements and workshops and trips. I wouldn't want to render myself unable to do that. So for me there is no going backward here; there's only figuring out how to manage it all going forward. Maybe I have to morph my presence there, become some kind of entity that doesn't accept private messages. But then there's Jemima. And all those people needing help.

She came to me via Facebook message on May 16 when the irises were in bloom, just a few days before Phoebe came home from school, and I didn't name her right away because I wanted my sweet daughter to have the chance. "Iris!" Phoebe said. "Jemima!" Bill said. So Jemima Iris she was named.

With Phoebe, May 23, Day 19 and three days a fledgling.

They fell right smack in love, and I'm sure Phoebe is her favorite person on the planet, the person who has spent the most time loving her and singing with her and appreciating all the cool little things she does. "You always have a pal for me when I come home, Mai." Shrug. I guess I do. Today, I was sent a playlist of Jemima Iris' favorite songs (she's a huge Ed Sheeran fan, "Barcelona" being her all-time favorite), and chastised for not spending enough time deejaying for a jay. Guilty. 

For a brief window she was portable, but then she started flying. Took her with us to Liam's crew banquet, where she represented for da boids.

The only time I was able to get a photo of her actually gaping was first thing in the morning. After that, she kept her mouth clamped shut, gaping only long enough to take a bit of food, often ducking and weaving to avoid the syringe. I've fed a lot of baby birds, and I would not call her easy to feed. Each one is as different from the other as snowflakes are.

Day 16 at first light. Neeeeyyaaahhhh! Neeeyaaaaahh!

Jays are omnivores. Once she started picking up her own food, which she did around Day 19, my job was to offer her an ever-changing smorgasbord of things from which she could choose. For a couple of weeks, she ate maddeningly tiny bites of everything, flinging away far more than she took in. Her tongue lashes in and out, and she cocks her head, considering the taste of each morsel. She is at once the most careful and discriminating bird I've ever tried to feed. She seems to be evaluating each new food for suitability, over and over. A bit of a surprise; I'd figured she'd gobble everything down like the jays at the feeder do. Not so. She is quite concerned, apparently, that someone might have slipped poison into her food. You never know. This kind lady who has dropped everything to serve her off perfect china plates could be plotting something.

As a  result, I kept supplementing her food with syringe feedings of Mazuri Nestling Formula, beefed up with Repto-Cal (a calcium supplement) until Day 37, which happens to be yesterday. That's a long time to be giving hourly feedings.

But this glorious creature, arrayed in shades of sky and ocean, is the result, and I could not be prouder or happier to have made the journey with Jemima. 

She made free in the house, which was messy but necessary, I thought, for her to develop socially as well as physically. Yep, whitewash spots everywhere. No big deal. I'll get 'em after she's released.

photo by Anne Babcock 

When left in her flight tent in the garage, she did OK, but screamed when she was lonely and hungry. So I'd pop out there, love her up, feed her, cave in and bring her back in the house. First thing in the morning she was too crazy; I couldn't stand having her go through my art materials and pound them to pieces, so I'd let her fly off her yayas in the tent. Then she spent somewhat quieter afternoons inside.

Chet Baker's been an absolute prince with her, suffering her affections. She latched onto him as the closest thing to a blue jay, and followed him, riding on his back, pounding on his toenails, sticking her beak in his ears...the most he'd do is get up and slowly walk away. What a guy, what a gemmun. To this day she hops right up and gets up in his face, quivering her wings and screeching softly at him with wide-open mouth. I think it's an invitation to play, to interact. He is always kind.

I'm writing this on Release Day, June 11, 2017. It seemed to take an eternity for her to be 100% self-feeding, and there were several days when I was sure she wasn't eating enough, but she refused the syringe, so it was what it was. And then finally on Day 37 I left her alone in the flight tent for most of the day, and she cleaned up all the mealworms in her bowl and nearly all her fruit and vegetable mix, and I knew she was ready to go. If I held her any longer she'd lose her edge. The point isn't to make a welfare case of her. The point is to release her.

I made her last tent breakfast this morning. Freshly molted mealworms, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mulberries, sweet corn and cornbread.

Fed her up good in the tent. 

Bill caught me topping her off with mealworms.

Then I took her out into the yard and showed her the little feeding station I'd set up in the Japanese maple that was once a bonsai. 

And she flew down and helped herself at once. 

 What a thing that was, to be outside with her in the warm sun and fresh breeze, to watch her play in the limbs of a tree I'd started from seed 35 years ago.  You can see her little feeding station behind her.

Chet and I sat out with her all morning. It was so nice out there, listening to her sing. The joy in the bird was palpable. My heart flew with her, because she was no longer captive. And she has all the tools she needs to survive and prosper. Just needed a little help from her friends.

She still goes to mush when Chet walks up.

From the Japanese maple, she flew to the arbor vitaes by the front door. So I made her a little feeding station there as well, with everything she likes and water too.

I put her bathtub in a big planter in case she wanted to bathe. 

And when the afternoon got hot, she did. Oh my. She tried to fly and landed in a heap on the ground. She scuttled under a boxwood to hide, knowing it was bad juju to be soaked and flightless outside. First big lesson on outdoor living!

I scooped her up. For better or worse, I'm still her mama. Brought her inside to dry and preen in the sun, in the safety of the kitchen. She's a work in progress. Aren't we all? 

Dried out, she went right back to pestering Chet Baker.

I want to PLAY WITH YOU. Are you DEEF???

Hm. That's right. You are deef. 

Let Jemima have a look in that ear. 

From there, she went to tussling with my antler back-scratcher.

She got her dose of Ed Sheeran today! For me, this little clip embodies the joy Jemima has brought to our lives. She's a scruffy little angel, sent down to cheer us, to buoy our spirits. I watched her work her magic on exam and life-weary Phoebe, who needed exactly this: a little thing to care for and dote on, one she could love and then release to a bright future.  I'll always be grateful that Jemima Iris landed in our lives just when she did. Whitewash and all.


Such a special sharing... reminds me of my special time with Petey the titmouse / we have to name them!! Prayers for Jemima Iris - a bird in paradise!!

I tweeted Ed Sheeran about it. Hey, you never know.

Tears. Beautiful, wonderful, tears. Thank you for the whole story!

So beautiful! I hope that Jemima lives a long and happy life, and maybe even visits you from time to time. Please let us know if she does. What an enchanting bird!

Posted by Anonymous June 11, 2017 at 5:41 PM

Delightful story about Jemima Iris and her foster family! What will happen if she gets that wet again and nobody is there to rescue her?

Love how she gave Chet a piece of her mind and how she sang along with Ed's music. Great stuff.

Thanks for being such a magnificently loving and experienced rehabber!!

Life is good.

What a ride! Thank you for taking us along.

Wishing the best for that beautiful little Jemima Iris. She was so lucky to wind up in the palm of your hands and into the love of your incredibly kind heart. I hope she makes the leap back into wildness, and will come back to visit and remember you with all that reciprocal love. You are the best, Julie!

Her singing is a most wonderful, bright spot. Heartwarming stuff, Julie!

Love love the wing action in the sing along!

How I hope we humans owuld relate to each other this way, out of love and concern, not out of fear. Your work is so inspirational--I have your Bluebird book and the baby birds book, and they are so beautiful & inspiring. Thank you. God speed to Jemimah. I looked up her name, and she's either "dove" "She who acts like the sea" or "Lady Daylight". I had not been all that fond of bluejays, as they seem to bully other birds (though I recently saw a Mockingbird give a blue jay what for!). but Jemimah (and you!) changed my point of view. (ps, I'm Occasionalbird on IG. Way back in April I had posted a screenshot of an osprey female with a wound on her talon. Because of your concern I emailed Audubon CT about it and they followed up with a screenshot of her healed foot. Yay! The Osprey mom is now catering to her two quickly growing chicks!)

Yes, that was the mother of all Jay posts,and so worth reading. Thank you for the 24/7 effort.
I hope she returns the favor by hanging out in your yard and and sharing her Jay de vie with you.

So I have an idea. Are you asking for ideas? It would be like me to barge in with an idea when sometimes ideas on the internet are about as helpful when 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife. But often with social media there's not enough putting ones money where his mouth is. Raising baby birds/helping animals is not just costly in time but has to also be costly in dollars. Perhaps a rate for answering questions could be established. Maybe to you, maybe donated to the Wildlife Hospital. A bit of a sponsorship. It was an eye opening for me when I took a bird to the Wildlife Hospital. As they should, they asked if I'd like to donate with my poor bird. I asked what about is the cost of nursing a bird back to health? I assumed you gave birds some water and some seeds and hoped for the best. Uhhh not quite :)
It's great people want to do the right thing, but I don't think there's anything wrong with asking for a bit of real world help when they're asking so much of you. If the person can't afford to help financially, turn it back to the people of Facebook. $5 here and there adds up quickly among 4000 people. I will put on my Tammy Faye mascara and plead to the camera if you'd like. I've always wanted an excuse to do that.
Thank you for saving this lovely little (Taurus!) jay. Of course she loves Phoebe. She knows her barrage of blue is ignited against Phoebe's radiant mane.
I quit Facebook in 2012 among a scandal that had people divided. I *almost* lost my s**t with a client and realized the platform was no longer for me. But I have to go back. Will be taking my business in a new direction which means I'll have to take my head out of the sand and use social media again.

Having seen firsthand the round-the-clock attention and effort you put into your orphans, I love that Jemima is ready for the real world! Thanks for sharing her with me.

Gosh what a lovely load of bloglove is raining down. I feel it!! Thank you everyone for being so kind. That was actually a whine which ended up with an uplifting rehab story. Stephen Andrew, I flippin' love you. I'm so glad you're in Ohio so there is a chance we will meet and fall into a great big hug. You crack me up. You're on for the Tammy Faye plea. I gotta see that.
When you come back to Facebook you know I'll be there.
What you're talking about is monetizing, which is something I think about a lot. I have some stalwarts who spontaneously send me donations, and I love them for that. But you've got a good point about what could happen if everybody gave just a little. Trust me I'm thinking about it.
Raymond, only you could come up with Jay de vie (vivre). Mwah!!
Anne I can't believe how wonderful it was to share that birdie with you.
Shila has just been out to experience Jemima Released and was not disappointed.
Mollie, Jem bathed this morning again and had to be brought inside. I'm hoping her preening will up and she'll access that oil gland as she gets older.
Murr good thinkin!


Oh Julie, thanks for all you do. It's like the story of the boy on a beach covered with starfish, throwing them back in the sea one by one. A man tells him he'll never make a difference, there are too many starfish for him to save. "But I made a difference to this one" the boys says as he throws another in the sea. Your stories, your art, your life makes my heart sing.

So moved, so grateful you're in this world sharing your time and many talents. Brava! I hope you're caring for yourself as well. Kim in PA

I hope she comes for a visit and a snack every now and again. Lovely post.

Julie, the story alone would have been perfect, but your photos just sent it over the top. They are ALL my favorite, especially the drenched Jemima and the gaping Jemima.
You are so good at presenting things otherwise taken for granted, and elevating them to beloved status. What you did for one helpless creature changed a lot of lives for your readers, including mine. I can never look at another jay without thinking of Jemima and your family, and how your love is an example for all of us. Thank you.

What a perfectly lovely post Julie! Thank you for sharing.

You tickle me Julie...and remind me of our own pet blue jay growing up in south Texas. He had a unique weather alert system...a special call, sending a clear warning that a big thunderstorm was about to drench us all. It didn't matter if there wasn't a cloud in the sky, he was never wrong and for as long as he lived, we never had wet clothes hanging on the line.

Oh boy, do I love this. I've been loving the pictures of Jemima and waiting for a moment to hunker down and read this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I promise I won't ask you to come to NH and pick up any birds, but thanks for sharing the true story of Jemima Iris. What a joy! I know you'll figure out how to keep on keeping on out there on the interwebs :) You've always done it with grace and it can't be easy.

We took in a baby blue jay that was found thrown in a dumpster. It's getting almost time for him to start picking up his own food, we've had him for about a week and a half now, though I don't know his exact age. Amazing little bird, for sure. I wish my rat terrier could be trusted around him though..

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