Over a four-day period of walking back and forth along the street in front of my house I found 12 blue jay feathers.
Like a crow I pick bright shiny objects, or colorful or textured ones: rocks and lichen-covered sticks, leaves, acorns and especially bird feathers.
At this obvious death scene were fluffy tufts of down, underfeathers, scuttling along the rock verge. The feathers were scattered along both sides of the street, so my tentative conclusions included a collision between a car and a blue jay. But I most strongly suspected one of our resident hawks. Hawks will eat blue jays . But crazy loud bluejays will attack hawks. One of the jay’s most important jobs is his screaming to warn others about hawks and owls and snakes and humans.
Birds are thriving this spring. We have nests in the most inconvenient places, on fan blades, in carport corners, over doorways, and one flat pocket-like nest behind a dried wreath on one wall of my patio. The birds have moved into birdhouses that have sat empty for years, a few of which were never intended to house winged creatures.
Weird varieties of warblers, finches, grosbeaks and more are stopping by my feeders. We have a downy or a hairy woodpecker nesting in a hole in a tree at the edge of my woods. He comes to the feeder as well, but doesn’t pause. Very businesslike, he or she gets one seed at a time very quickly with one peck and hurries back to his hole.
One little bird who has moved into a low bird house that has been waiting for tenants for six years, flies like a top gun. He and she both start from far away and aim for the tiny opening with no hesitation. It is like some magnetic radar is guiding them. One millisecond they are spread-winged and swooping, at some point that I never see, they become furled torpedoes and whoosh into the nickel-sized hole.
I told my neighbor Frances that we were having a great bird show in our yard this spring. I wanted to ask a fellow bird-watcher if the wetter, cooler spring has been responsible for the increased bird population. Or perhaps it is a more mature yard? Or some new planting or some wild unkempt area? I have a new fence that they perch upon, and Hank keeps several feeders full.
But Frances said, “No this is a terrible spring for birds.” She has very few at her feeders, and she blames it on the hawks. We share the same families of hawks, I think, since our houses are about 80 yards apart, through woods. There may be more than just one family. I see and hear them everywhere in the neighborhood. Just yesterday, I was frightened by a menacing hawk right above my head. Two in fact were looking down at me, telling me to turn and walk away. Which I did.
And besides I have been enjoying families of hawks for over 10 years. And yes they have occasionally decimated flocks of finches gathered at my feeder right in front of my eyes, but I treasure them.
It was most likely a hawk that spread at my feet the quiet feathers of the beautiful blue jay, a raucous bird of my childhood, the second species that the aunts taught me to identify. The cardinal, of course, was first.
Like flowers and butterflies, birds bring brief beauty to our worlds. They live and hunt and feed; they nest, lay eggs, feed babies, and die. Like us.
But in between they do soar. And sit on a branch and sing, not just to attract a mate, but surely just for the joy of it.
And occasionally they leave a few feathers to comfort us through the winter. I put my 12 blue feathers in a short Mason jar and set them on a corner of a desk where lies my daily calendar. Like the birds of the air, my days are numbered.
Perhaps, I will leave a few bright feathers behind? But, if not, it will have been enough to soar and sing and nest and share a few moments of bliss with the birds.