I will be introducing my my new novel by the end of this week when it goes up for preorder. It's quirky and humorous but also tragic and centered on grief. Blue jays talk to the reader intermittently, sharing their observations, hinting at clues about what exactly is going on.
So, why, in a book about activism and environmental and governmental dystopia, would I give voice to birds? Well, it's a long story. Or lots of stories.
I feed birds and always have questions, so I'd google for answers. There are so many books and blogs and YouTube videos on birds. It's actually overwhelming, this information. Birding is popular and birding blogs are all over the place. I narrowed down my information sources to keep my sanity. I chose a few blogs I could trust, books that were enlightening. I reviewed one recently. SAVING JEMIMA by Julie Zickefoose, a great blogger and very knowledgable artist and wildlife writer. She particularly understands blue jays.
But I didn't just read blogs. I observed. When I had time. My kitchen bay window provides a view of my feeders and their activity is always in front of me every morning during coffee and afternoon when cooking. I tend to watch things and ask what if. It's what I do best. It's why I write fiction because fiction studies the world with all its problems and complexities and interrelationships by asking "What if this happened?"
One of my big "what ifs" when I observe nature, particularly birds, has to do with their point of view. As I google my questions then read expert answers, I always ponder, "What if the birds are studying us, too?" How can birds fly over all of us us and not wonder about our interconnections, disconnections, conflicts, social engagements, routines. They observe us retrieve dog excrement, scooping up poop then tying these poop filled bags. What do they all think about that? They watch us travel in these motorized compartments, winding around bizarrely illogical paths. They fly over us protesting--walking down streets together, holding cardboard squares with black symbols scattered over them. When they contemplate man, in bird terms, what conclusions do they draw?
Furthermore, I've always thought birds would make excellent characters, because great characters are usually great observers. Great characters insert commentary as a story progresses. Great characters offer up only factual, truthful reality. Great characters, like birds, never lie. Birds live in "fact world."
And what better bird to choose as a fact commentator than the highly social, intelligent, witty community organizer--the blue jay.
I have always loved Corvids. I've been fascinated by their intelligence and language for years. But, alas, crows don't visit me, so I've never had the opportunity to befriend them. However blue jays--also corvids as you probably know--do visit me. They visit often.
When I first put up feeders, my blue jays were pests. Bullying smaller birds. Crowding out feeders. Screeching, squawking around the yard. After a while, I slowly modified their behavior with meal worms and peanuts. They behave now. No more bullying. No more congregating on all feeders. I knew they would learn because as I watched bluejays, I gradually came to understand something quite special about them.
Look, I'm not foolish. I do understand that blue jays engage only because you give them food. Period. However, and this took years of observation to realize, blue jays also observe. They observe me in the garden, jogging down the road, trying to walk my bulldog, filling the feeders. They are interested. Do I like squirrels? Do I like my dog? Ho do I treat the birds, how I treat my dogs? (and I have stories about this.) They watch me. So, when I place a few peanuts on the ground only when they do not bully other birds and cease crowding the bird feeder. (this took a while), they realized I didn't like bullying and I didn't want more than one feeding at a time. That's how more peanuts or meal worms are gained. So, now I rarely see bullying or feeder crowding.
Not only do the families in my territory no longer bully or crowd the feeder, none of visiting blue jays crowd the feeders. (maybe the babies but the parents eventually teach them). This leads me to wonder if they communicate the protocols to fellow migratory birds or other visitors. Their language is very complex-- the small chirps, dulcet songs, hawk imitations, quick alarms, mob screams etc. Every sound is slightly different and unique to that jay. Each sound conveys different messages. They talk, basically. So perhaps there's certain screech that translates into, "The good stuff is here!" Similar to a child yelling at their buddies on the playground, "MOM FINALLY BOUGHT ICE CREAM!"
Sometimes, after the food screams, a half-dozen blue jays arrive, other times, two dozen. When I used to toss meal worms during nesting season to give them added protein, I once counted 51 blue jays in my yard. This number of jays goes beyond the normal family tribe that populates this immediate territory. I wondered if this meant they found this food so amazing, they called in everyone in other family tribes--a dinner party, if you will-- to come join the feast. And this during nesting season when many birds, particularly the cardinals, become quite territorial. And yet here they are feasting with neighbors. What incredible social complexity. I had to stop doing meal worms, however, because it was scary how many blue jays showed up. I switched to peanuts.
Please know, I'm not an expert and in no way claim to know animal behavior science. I am a wannabe animal behavior scientist, yes. But not a real one. I observe. I try to engage. That's all I do. So, I will be blogging stories of my observations. I can't help but imagine and of course that will lead to my little takes on their behavior, just like I have takes on ducks and turkeys etc. So, below are some of the neighborhood gang, walking around, gorging on corn, seed droppings, hunting for a peanut. More later.
I like to write about people, animals, dogs. I enjoy ideas, good books about ideas, funny books about ideas, funny people who have ideas, advocates for people who don't have voices to express their ideas, and animals who have ideas we can't understand.