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Would Someone P-L-E-A-S-E Answer the Phone!

The adult blue jay was brought to me by the family of the deceased woman who had kept the bird in a cage for 5 years. The blue jay was in amazingly good health for a captive wild bird except for an overgrown beak, the result of a calcium deficiency.  The most interesting aspect about the blue jay was the sounds she made.  Kept inside a house from the time she was a baby bird, her idea of blue jay calls were imitations of a ringing telephone, fax machine beeps, and emergency vehicle sirens.

 I  dubbed her a female because male and female blue jays appear the same to us humans, and named her Jaybella. Since it was Thanksgiving, I initially kept her inside my house in a big parrot cage; however, Susan Birch, a caring and knowledgeable songbird rehabilitator in Pennsylvania, advised me by email to cover my outdoor aviary with tarps and put Jaybella out there for the winter.  "She's a wild bird," Susan assured me.  "She will be just fine outside.  Not only does she need to fly, she also needs to learn to speak blue jay from listening to the wild blue jays in the area."

During the really cold weather, I added a heat lamp to Jaybella's aviary, but she seemed to thrive outdoors.  Every morning she sang a repertoire of telephone rings, fax machine beeps, and sirens.  My neighbors asked me if I had installed a telephone in my backyard. After several weeks, I was excited when she began interspersing her human song with actual blue jay calls.  Her song now went this way, "Ring, ring, ring, SCREECH, beep, beep, SCREECH, ring ring . . . ."

Blue jays are wonderful mimics of other sounds.  They routinely imitate hawks, supposedly to scare all the other birds off the feeder so they can have it for themselves.  Last year, I released another blue jay named Alfred who had been raised in someone's home and did telephone rings as well.  One day, I heard Jaybella in the aviary doing rings, and I promise

you, she was being answered by a bird in a tree doing rings too!  I wondered if it was Alfred?

In January when I introduced a young crow with a sprained wing to the aviary, Jaybella, clearly upset with the intruder, did the blue jay alarm call.  However, whenever I brought another human into the aviary, she nervously did her repertoire of human sounds.

By mid-April, I knew it was timeto release Jaybella.  The aviary would soon be crowded with orphaned baby birds.  One warm, sunny morning, I went out to the aviary to say goodbye and leave the door open so that she could depart when ready.  As usual, Jaybella launched into her morning song of telephone rings and blue jay screeches.  In the middle of the day, I heard her have an exchange with a wild blue jay in a tree, each of them screeching in turn.  Shortly after that, I went out to the aviary to find that she had gone.

That evening I briefly heard the telephone ring from high in the trees in my backyard, then no more human sounds.  Jaybella had joined the wild and wonderful world of blue jays where no one answers the phone.

​by Helen Laughlin