Jays In The Nest

Photo by Susan Crossett

Thursday, just after noon, her nest is empty.

I figured she’d stepped out to take care of . . . well, you know. Expectant mother and all that.

But, while I was watching, Dad flew in, probably ready to share lunch. Between the way he quizzically turned his head from side to side and the flitting that went on as he hopped from one branch to another, I felt I could read his mind: where in tarnation is she?

I turned away for less than a minute and she’s back and the he (I’m guessing, but what else?) is off again.

The Nestling Phase. Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior: “During the last stages of nest-building, the female may sit on the nest for long periods even before egg-laying has begun. Once the eggs have been laid and real incubation has started, she receives all of her food from the male. At first she leaves the nest briefly and is fed nearby, but in the later stages of incubation she takes all her food right at the nest. Her uninterrupted periods of incubation get longer as the incubation phase progresses, until, near the end of it, she may leave the nest for as little as a few minutes every two hours. During this phase the male generally stays near the nest and guards against any possible danger.”

My first note was May 21st: jay still on her nest. Making today the 18th day of her nesting. According to Stokes, the time is now. But, also according to Stokes, there may be a “practice” time before laying and incubation really get started. When the time is up, she’s supposed to stay on her nest and accept her food in bed.

With my grandchildren way past the Dr. Seuss stage, “Horton Hatches the Egg” pops into my mind now. As I recall he, the elephant, ended up sitting in a tree — quite ungainly — protecting the eggs after Maisey flew off. Should I name my bird Maisey as well? She seems to have flown the coop (or the nest) every time I’ve gone back to check. (I can only observe the nest from my bathroom window so being a Peeping Tom requires some effort.)

But we have a baby!

This morning I had my camera ready and “caught” Dad flying in. He did offer Mom a morsel but they — to my complete astonishment — both directed their attention to a tiny beak poking up from the bottom of the nest. So it wasn’t a practice pregnancy after all!

Moments later (well, I can’t spend all my time at the window) she’s gone again.

I didn’t see a cell phone in the nest so am supposing she ran “down the hill” to tell close friends and family of the blessed event. (I don’t get the idea this particular bird is all that happy being stuck at home.)

Stokes tells us 4 or 5 eggs are the norm with incubation lasting seventeen days. “The female broods the young for the first few days after they hatch. Both parents take part in feeding them, and the male also continues to bring food for the female. The young remain on the nest for a comparatively long period and are well grown by the time they leave.”

June 9. Mother Jay sits as unconcernedly as ever. Wouldn’t it feel different to have life rather than the hard shell of eggs beneath?

I wonder what she thinks about during those long days on the nest. Birds do think, don’t they? Does she watch me with any interest as I dress in the morning, brush my teeth, take my vitamins and put on a bit of lipstick? Does she pay any attention when I exercise before going to bed? It’s dark then and my light is on with not much else to look at. Does she find me as interesting as I find her? Does she think? Of course.

Monday, June 11 — The nest is empty. Earlier she flew in but immediately settled onto the nest. Is the little one not yet ready for breakfast? Watching more I see one tiny head pop up and then disappear. Dad swoops in but finds his rapacious mate gone and leaves. Patience (mine) pays off for Mom does eventually return to feed THREE little ones.

Tuesday — Watching the jay reminds me of my own pregnancies. (And boy! was that a long time ago!) I think most women get increasingly antsy as the pregnancy progresses: I want that baby out — NOW! Only that’s when the work really begins. She was better off carrying the load. Jays of course have none of that to contend with but I’d bet she was happier sitting on a bunch of eggs and being catered to rather than the little birdlets now beneath.

Wednesday — it’s becoming more of an effort for her to tamp the kids down when she’s ready to settle.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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