The bluejay wars

>>The bluejay wars

The bluejays are at it again.

When I moved to Oregon I was charmed to find not only the old, familiar white-bellied jays of my youth (Scrub Jays, a name that’s frankly condescending and ought to be changed) but also the sleek, sapphire-and-black Stellar Jays. They’re both beautiful critters, a pair of each live in my backyard and, for the most part, they get along pretty well (or at least they keep a lid on disagreements).

…except in spring, when they go to war for my back porch light.

Now, there’s nothing special (that I can see) about that light, a simple affair of two swiveling spots on a metal mount. It’s right by the back door which severely limits avian privacy and it throws out a searchlight glare that would not only disturb a poor bird’s sleep but also serves as a giant ad for bluejay tartare. Anybody living on that light would be exposed to the depredations of every cat in the neighborhood; anything falling off that light would bounce first on ceramic tile, then land on a hard and unforgiving wooden deck in full feline and raccoon view.

In short, it’s not the place I would pick to raise the kids, especially when I could have my choice of perhaps 15 thickly gorgeous, private evergreen trees, handily close on a soft mulch floor.

The jays beg to disagree, and every single spring they fight furiously to see who gets to nest on that light.

This year’s battle began yesterday afternoon, when the big male Scrub landed on the deck and cocked his head, studying the house. He hopped back and forth, appraising the light from all angles, and finally flew off to the missus. She landed about two minutes later, gave it a twice-over, leapt lightly to an old metal table right under the light, and finally approved the move-in.

Twigs embeaked,* they headed for the light. They’d no sooner laid the first twig when all hell broke loose. The Stellars gave a howl and swiftly moved in. The Scrubs dropped twig and joined battle, and for about 15 minutes you couldn’t see anything but blue-feathered pinwheels.

Bluejay fighting is kind of a hoot; they rush at each other, wings flapping and beak open, and swirl in the air like tornadoes. They don’t seem to do much damage, though. More than anything a bluejay fight resembles a prolonged and rather sloppy game of (forgive me) Chicken. A couple of feathers got plucked, from the looks of the deck, but all four birds emerged intact and flew off. Their noise rivaled a poorly tuned electric guitar playing Layla, full volume.


Ironically, in six years no bluejay has ever actually completed a nest on that light. Usually, putting more than a couple of twigs or strings or feathers on those support posts causes the whole assembly to drop through the posts to the deck below. If a determined bird does manage to balance enough to make a nest, the structure slides off with the first good puff of wind.

Failure doesn’t keep them from trying again, and they are stubborn cusses. By sunset on the second day of construction, the area below the light sports a bonfire-high pile of twigs…and the nest looks about like the picture above.

Still, I give them a lot of credit for persistence.

The jay wars appear to have died down for the day, with no sign of Scrubs or Stellars. Maybe they’ve finally given up.

Yeah, right.

Update: Today I haven’t seen a sign of the Scrubs, but the Stellars are already piling up twigs in front of the sliding glass door and making exasperated noises when the the nest takes its usual nosedive. One stays on the deckrail, keeping lookout, I suppose, while the other lugs in a few twigs and tosses them on the light, then watches them fall. She (I think) patiently flutters down onto the deck, picks up a twig and tries again.

I guess that means the Stellars won the race for the light. Wonder where the Scrubs wound up?


*Embeaked: No idea if that’s a word or not, but it sounded good.



  1. Rinee May 17, 2010 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks Cynthia for a very charming, well told story. 🙂

  2. chaniarts May 13, 2010 at 9:19 am - Reply

    we have a wreath hanging on our front door, changing with the seasons. our spring wreath gets the same pair of doves nesting in it every year. luckily, the fledglings grow up and out in a couple of weeks or less, so we can’t use the front door for a short period. some years they get 2 broods though, if the spring is unusually wet and cool.

  3. Jerry Jensen May 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Each year we have several pairs of swallows nesting on the house. I have discouraged them from the nesting on walls but allowed them to inhabit a walking foot rail around the observatory on the top of my house. They are great to watch flying about and good at keeping bugs down. The other day one flew to close to our dog Kima, a 18 month old Akida, while she was out on the front lawn. She caught it right out of the air and ate it like the creature on the Spiderwick Chronicles. Living out in the country we see some odd things.

  4. cynthia May 12, 2010 at 10:59 am - Reply

    I keep thinking of the famous picture of birds who built a nest in the mouth of a storm gutter, right before the rainy season. Kinda took “live for the present” to extremes.

    I did have a successful nesting on that light about five years ago, after the jays gave up. The winners were much smaller than the jays, probably sparrows (my brain simply classified them as “little brown birds”), and they weren’t quite so ambitious–a lot less bird to fit into the nest. They had at least three babies, who flew off midsummer. I thought my cats would have heart attacks.

  5. ellen abbott May 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    I have a pair of wrens building a nest in the (attached) garage in the plastic bag that holds the rags that is hanging from a peg right by the door to the house. When the door is open (has a screen) I see them going back and forth. And they fuss if the occupants of the house are too active. We use that door a lot, one of the main exits out of the house so I don’t know what they are thinking. I startle them out of the garage often enough.

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