Yesterday it became clear that Tzipi is probably a male (and we will probably change his name). His latest behavior is, if we’re are home, T (how I will refer to him in this posting) will spend and inordinate amount of time staring at us. He seemed to spend a majority of yesterday hopping from place to place staring at me, whether I was in the yard or in the condo. He now uses the trapeze, the wall, or a chair as his perch for this — previously he would only sit on the fence.
My attempt to play with him a bit in terms of hiding nuts on my person or otherwise making him work for them fell flat. I tried having my hand closed and this just exasperated him. He kept hopping from place to place trying to figure out at what angle he could just dive down and get the nuts. K has claimed several times that T has sat in his hand or his arm but even if I use the same techniques as he (he claims it’s about the arm position), T will not land on me except very occasionally and very briefly. He also, on occasion, seems to purposely toss a nut out of my hand and onto the ground rather than grabbing it. I don’t know why he would do that since it’s more work for him.
He doesn’t seem to be getting the “count to four” concept yet.
So you’re wondering… why do I think he’s a male?
Yesterday as he was sitting on the fence another Jay appeared, much duller in color. That was the first clue, as female birds are almost always duller in color so they’re less noticeable when they sit on their nests. So T is bright, most probably T= male. I tried to go outside to get close to Ms. Jay, but she just flew off. About ten minutes later I heard some very loud screeching in the yard. Let it be known the T almost never screeches in the yard; he’s always very quiet, as if he’s in stealth mode. It seems reasonable that he would be quiet so as not to draw attention to His Yard. Evidently, though some other male Jay saw Ms. Jay come down and decided to have a look. Oh, well, that did NOT go over well with T. There’s was a full-on fight, during which T tore out one of the other Jay’s tailfeathers (it’s still in the yard). Other Jay took to picking up dirt clods with his beak and flinging them at T. Yes, actual mud-slinging occurred. After Other Jay flew off, I went to give T a nut as if to say, silly bird, I wouldn’t feed another Jay. But he was too agitated to take it, and appeared concerned that Other Jay might be watching and get ideas about taking nuts from me. Indeed, within 30 seconds T and I noticed Other Jay perched on the roof next door, watching us intently. T flew off.
He came back about an hour later, and commenced his staring marathon anew. We’ll see if Other Jay or Ms. Jay appear again. It’s obvious that T feels that this human-giving-nuts situation is worth fighting beak and nail for.
Finally, K cleverly suggested naming T “Topol” after another famous Israeli I am fond of (who I just read was unbelievably still playing Tevye up until last year. Frankly, for me, there is NO OTHER TEVYE. I’m speaking to you, Mr. Fierstein).. I tried using this name this morning but kept forgetting. I’ll try again later.
My next goal for Tzipi is to teach her to count to four. This is so she knows that The Buffet is closed and she shouldn’t hang around waiting for more. So each time we feed her now we give her four nuts, one at a time. Yesterday, though, K said he put a bunch of little crumbs in his hand and she stayed there for a long time eating them. So I thought I’d try this too this morning, but she didn’t seem keen on sitting on my hand for very long. So, despite this brief detour, we will return later to the four-nut rule.
Being that I am The Nerge, I have started assiduously researching Scrub Jays. Tzipi, I’ll have you know, is a Western Scrub Jay, or Aphelocoma californica californica. The Western Scrub Jay has been shown to be one of the most intelligent animals studied, according to University of Cambridge Comparative Psychology of Learning and Cognition Lab. They can remember up to 200 caches of food; they can remember how long ago they created each stash (episodic memory); they remember the past and plan for the future; and most importantly, they can guess the intentions of other Jays. If a Jay who is storing nuts sees another Jay watching them, they know that Jay may plan to come back and steal from their hoard. They know this, because they’d do the same thing. So they wait until the other Jay is gone and then restash their hoard elsewhere. There is no other animal that has been documented to engage in such well-planned and perceptive behavior.
Western Scrub Jays also live an average of nine years, so Tzipi may be around for a while.
Also, although they are not sexually dimorphic, the males may be have stronger white “eyebrows” — which indicates that Tzipi may be a male after all.
I also discovered (although I guess as much) that I am not the first person to try taming a Jay nor to write about it on the Internet. On the page The Way of the Jay, the author, Diane Porter, uses a different methodology to tame Jimmy the Jay, with similar results. Reading her story also gave me an idea to nut offer the nuts so easily — keep them in my fist, or pretend to hide them on my person and make a game of it.
Ms. Porter also writes about bird taming in general, ending her instructions with
Start any time of the year. I’ve hand tamed birds in Southern California who’ve never seen snow. But I think it goes faster and easier in winter. Whenever it happens, it will be summer in your heart.
Ain’t it the truth.
Frankly, I do have mixed feeling about bird taming. I feel guilty about disturbing the natural order of things, and getting a wild animal to trust people (which it shouldn’t). K did remind me that Tzipi is urban wildlife. She’s used to bird feeders, and her biggest predator are domestic cats. There’s nothing really natural about the situation to begin with.
So, residual guilt aside, I’d like to attempt her guide to Hand Feeding Wild Birds if Tzipi ever relinquishes full control of our yard.
Next I’ve ordered three books from the library on corvidae, so my research continues.
After our first breakthrough, I would spend some time every non-work day watching for this Jay. When she would come to the yard, I would go outside and stand and wait with a nut in my outstretched palm. The time it took her to take the nut steadily decreased. I tried to see if she preferred almonds or walnuts by putting one of each in my hand. She outsmarted me. She took the almond, put it on the fence, and then seconds later took the walnut. She spent a minute getting them both in her beak and then flew off. At this point she would always fly off to eat the nuts, and would only come to me if I stood near her at the far corner of the fence.
At this point the name Tzipi popped into my head, so I started calling her by that name. (It’s also the name of the first women leader of the opposition party in Israel, who is the second woman to be foreign minister, a vegetarian, and pro-LGBT.)
My next goal for Tzipi the Jay was to have her come to me in the middle of the yard. This was not hard, and actually from this point her learning and tameness began to accelerate. At first she would fly to the birdbath — a halfway point — and then to my hand, but after a few days of this she started hopping down the fence until she was closer to me and then flying to me. Then things got pretty comfortable.
I introduced her to K, and she took nuts from him without hesitation.
Last week she started sometimes sitting on my or K’s hand for a few moments before grabbing the nut. She also would sit and stare at us if we were at our garden table. Although I know she is just waiting for more nuts, she also seems to enjoy watching us. It is funny to be actively watched by a bird rather than being the watcher.
First, the background story.
We’d had a regular bird feeder and a hummingbird feed up for a few years now. About a year ago, we had a problem with Jays, both Scrub and Stellar, getting obnoxiously greedy with the seed feeder and chasing all the cute songbirds away. So we took the feeder down for a couple of weeks and when we put it back up, some sort of homeostasis was restored. The Jays backed off and we had a nice variety of birds again.
This spring the same problem began manifesting, but taking down the feeder for weeks did not work. We tried a couple of times, and then I began to notice the one particular jay was really being piggish about the seeder. Also, she* began acting like the entire yard belonged to her exclusively. Although she would ignore the hummingbirds, she would dive at the Stellar Jay who was just drinking out of the birdbath.
After the last time I had taken the seed feeder down, it was sitting just inside the back door. One day I came into the room and saw that this chutzpadik Jay had come into our condo to eat from the feeder! It was then I had an epiphany: this Jay can be tamed.
My first step was to see if she would come to feeder if I was holding it: she did.
After this, I moved the seed feeder away from the door. She came into the condo looking for it while I was out of the room. When I entered the room, she flew about forgetting where the door was (this is tricky because of our glass wall). I said to her, “The door is over here” and pointed to the way out. She flew out the door. Epiphany #2: This Jay can understand me.
Now, the big trick: getting her to take a nut from my hand.
If you decided bird taming is for you, you must be willing to stand for long periods of time, hand outstretched, waiting for the bird to take the nut. This takes some patience.
So, I stood like a fool many times, nut in palm, hand outstretched, waiting. I could not be too close or too far. She would fluff up her feathers, do some funny thing with her throat, look all around, and then fly away.
After a half a dozen of these interchanges over a couple of weeks, she could resist the nut no longer. She ducked her head down, look straight at me, flew down and snatched the nut from my hand. I felt her little feet touch my palm briefly. We two creatures, living in completely different worlds, made contact. She had never touched a human; I had never touched a Jay. Whatever happened next, our sense of place and self had been altered.
* I don’t really know the gender, I just decided on she