The Busy Blue Jay by Olive Thorne Miller
One of the most interesting birds who ever lived in my Bird Room was a
blue jay named Jakie. He was full of business from morning till night,
scarcely ever a moment still.
Poor little fellow! He had been stolen from the nest before he could
fly, and reared in a house, long before he was given to me. Of course
he could not be set free, for he did not know how to take care of
Jays are very active birds, and being shut up in a room, my blue jay
had to find things to do, to keep himself busy. If he had been allowed
to grow up out of doors, he would have found plenty to do, planting
acorns and nuts, nesting, and bringing up families.
Sometimes the things he did in the house were what we call mischief
because they annoy us, such as hammering the woodwork to pieces,
tearing bits out of the leaves of books, working holes in chair seats,
or pounding a cardboard box to pieces. But how is a poor little bird to
know what is mischief?
Many things which Jakie did were very funny. For instance, he made it
his business to clear up the room. When he had more food than he could
eat at the moment, he did not leave it around, but put it away
carefully,—not in the garbage pail, for that was not in the room, but
in some safe nook where it did not offend the eye. Sometimes it was
behind the tray in his cage, or among the books on the shelf. The
places he liked best were about me,—in the fold of a ruffle or the
loop of a bow on my dress, and sometimes in the side of my slipper. The
very choicest place of all was in my loosely bound hair. That of course
I could not allow, and I had to keep a very close watch of him for fear
I might have a bit of bread or meat thrust among my locks. In his
clearing up he always went carefully over the floor, picking up pins or
any little thing he could find, and I often dropped burnt matches,
buttons, and other small things to give him something to do. These he
would pick up and put nicely away.
Pins, Jakie took lengthwise in his beak, and at first I thought he had
swallowed them, till I saw him hunt up a proper place to hide them. The
place he chose was between the leaves of a book. He would push a pin
far in out of sight, and then go after another. A match he always tried
to put in a crack, under the baseboard, between the breadths of
matting, or under my rockers. He first placed it, and then tried to
hammer it out of sight. He could seldom get it in far enough to suit
him, and this worried him. Then he would take it out and try another
Once the blue jay found a good match, of the parlor match variety. He
put it between the breadths of matting, and then began to pound on it
as usual. Pretty soon he hit the unburnt end and it went off with a
loud crack, as parlor matches do. Poor Jakie jumped two feet into the
air, nearly frightened out of his wits; and I was frightened, too, for
I feared he might set the house on fire.
Often when I got up from my chair a shower of the bird's playthings
would fall from his various hiding-places about my dress,-nails,
matches, shoe-buttons, bread-crumbs, and other things. Then he had to
begin his work all over again.
Jakie liked a small ball or a marble. His game was to give it a hard
peck and see it roll. If it rolled away from him, he ran after it and
pecked again; but sometimes it rolled toward him, and then he bounded
into the air as if he thought it would bite. And what was funny, he was
always offended at this conduct of the ball, and went off sulky for a
He was a timid little fellow. Wind or storm outside the windows made
him wild. He would fly around the room, squawking at the top of his
voice; and the horrible tin horns the boys liked to blow at
Thanksgiving and Christmas drove him frantic. Once I brought a
Christmas tree into the room to please the birds, and all were
delighted with it except my poor little blue jay, who was much afraid
of it. Think of the sadness of a bird being afraid of a tree!
Jakie had decided opinions about people who came into the room to see
me, or to see the birds. At some persons he would squawk every moment.
Others he saluted with a queer cry like "Ob-ble! ob-ble! ob-ble!" Once
when a lady came in with a baby, he fixed his eyes on that infant with
a savage look as if he would like to peck it, and jumped back and forth
in his cage, panting, but perfectly quiet.
Jakie was very devoted to me. He always greeted me with a low, sweet
chatter, with wings quivering, and if he were out of the cage he would
come on the back of my chair and touch my cheek or lips very gently
with his beak, or offer me a bit of food if he had any; and to me
alone, when no one else was near, he sang a low, exquisite song. I
afterwards heard a similar song sung by a wild blue jay to his mate
while she was sitting, and so I knew that my dear little captive had
given me his sweetest—his love song.
One of Jakie's amusements was dancing across the back of a tall chair,
taking funny little steps, coming down hard, "jouncing" his body, and
whistling as loud as he could. He would keep up this funny performance
as long as anybody would stand before him and pretend to dance, too.
My jay was fond of a sensation. One of his dearast bits of fun was to
drive the birds into a panic. This he did by flying furiously around
the room, feathers rustling, and squawking as loud as he could. He
usually managed to fly just over the head of each bird, and as he came
like a catapult, every one flew before him, so that in a minute the
room was full of birds flying madly about trying to get out of his way.
This gave him great pleasure.
Wild blue jays, too, like to stir up their neighbors. A friend told me
of a small party of blue jays that she saw playing this kind of a joke
on a flock of birds of several kinds, robins, catbirds, thrashers, and
others. These birds were gathering the cherries on the top branches of
a big cherry tree. The jays sat quietly on another tree till the cherry
eaters were very busy eating. Then suddenly the mischievous blue rogues
would all rise together and fly at them, as my pet did at the birds in
the room. It had the same effect on the wild birds; they all flew in a
panic. Then the joking jays would return to their tree and wait till
their victims forgot their fear and came straggling back to the
cherries, when they repeated the fun.
Once a grasshopper got into the Bird Room, probably brought in clinging
to some one's dress in the way grasshoppers do. Jakie was in his cage,
but he noticed the stranger instantly, and I opened the door for him.
He went at once to look at the grasshopper, and when it hopped he was
so startled that he hopped, too. Then he picked the insect up, but he
did not know what to do with it, so he dropped it again. Again the
grasshopper jumped directly up, and again the jay did the same. This
they did over and over, till every one was tired laughing at them. It
looked as if they were trying to see who could jump the higher.
There was another bird in the room, however, who knew what grasshoppers
were good for. He was an orchard oriole, and after looking on for a
while, he came down and carried off the hopper to eat. The jay did not
like to lose his plaything; he ran after the thief, and stood on the
floor giving low cries and looking on while the oriole on a chair was
eating the dead grasshopper. When the oriole happened to drop it,
Jakie—who had got a new idea of what to do with grasshoppers—snatched
it up and carried it under a chair and finished it.
I could tell many more stories about my bird, but I have told them
before in one of my "grown-up" books, so I will not repeat them here.