On Father’s Day, and raising wild animals and a baby boy | ISLAND WILDLIFE

With Father’s Day upon us, I find myself once again thinking about the parallels between parenting wild animal babies and human babies.

In particular, I’m thinking about this ridiculously cute Steller’s jay baby being raised at West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

Have you ever been on your deck or in your yard and felt like you were being brow-beaten by a loud, noisy blue bird? That, my friends, is a Steller’s jay.

I most often hear people call them “blue birds” or “blue jays,” but that’s incorrect; while they’re close cousins of the blue jay, they actually look quite different. Their feathers are a deep azure blue over basically their entire body except for a charcoal black neck, head and crest.

But hey, they are the only large blue bird we have here, so if you want to call them a blue bird, go for it.

Mr. Jay arrived at our facility as little more than a sizable beak connected to a mass of wrinkly skin that was vaguely bird-shaped. Most newly hatched baby birds look like a Frankenstein experiment, something that only a parent could love.

We humans feel compelled to congratulate each other on how beautiful our newborn babies are.  But let’s be honest:  Most human newborns, freshly arrived in this world, are strange alien-looking creatures. I say “most newborns” because my son really was a beautiful baby from the moment he popped out.  Really, he was.

Thankfully, Mr. Jay quickly starting growing feathers and blossomed into an adorable little creature. I find it extraordinary how baby wild animals grow feathers and fur in just a few days or weeks.  My kid is nearly 9 months old, and I still have to dress him over and over again in clothes every day. Why can’t he just grow a hairsuit?  All the other babies are doing it.

Steller’s jays are truly remarkable birds.

Cousins of crows, they are quite intelligent, including amazing spatial memories that allow them to store and find surplus food (nuts and seeds) in caches throughout their ranges. Aside from noisily pestering us humans at times, they will mimic other birds including the red-tailed hawk, whose fierce cry they’ll use to scare other birds away from food.  They’ll also act as ringleaders, getting groups of birds to mob predators and other potentially dangerous intruders.

Shortly after growing his feathers, Mr. Jay graduated from hand-fed baby bird formula to eating crickets and mealworms on his own. Unlike my baby boy, Mr. Jay actually eats his food and doesn’t just mash it all over his face and hair. I’d like Darwin to explain to me how natural selection led to human babies squishing food into their ears. Maybe it’s some sort of food storage strategy.

The next stages in most baby bird’s lives are branching and fledging. Many baby birds, when they are getting close to being able to fly, will boldly hop out of the nest and walk around on the tree branches, sometimes falling out of the tree. Mom and dad will do their best to care for them and keep them safe until they’re able to fly. Fledgling birds are birds that are starting to fly but often end up on the ground for long periods of time during the learning process.

If you find baby birds on the ground at this time of year, please keep your pets away from them and leave them be. This is a difficult albeit important time in these birds’ development.

It’s the equivalent of when human babies “cruise” and start walking. My boy is just starting to pull himself up and start testing his legs. I’m not looking forward to his first face plant, but I need to let him experience that, just like those baby birds need to experience branching and fledging. Please don’t tell my wife that I just wrote that.

I’m happy to report that Mr. Jay quickly progressed through branching and fledging. He’s now flying like a big bird and will be released soon, free to find others of his kind and to live his life.

Unfortunately, I’m told that I’ll have to wait 17 years before releasing my boy. Hopefully by then he’ll be able to fly on his own and I’ll have fished all of the pureed yam out of his ear.

Happy Father’s Day!

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