The Outdoor Campus - East

The Outdoor Campus Blue Jay...

Flopper the Blue Jay

Flopper is on Twitter and YouTube! link to Outdoor Campus YouTube logo

Flopper's Story
by Janet Brannian, Outdoor Campus Volunteer

In October of 1997, The Outdoor Campus acquired a blue jay named Flopper. Flopper was donated in hopes that she could be used as a teacher. And she has been. With her we have been able to teach people about blue jays, imprinting, habitat loss, animal intelligence and many other topics.

Flopper was found on the ground after a storm in the spring of 1996. Blue jays are altricial, which means they hatch naked and helpless. Flopper was a fairly new hatchling when she was taken to a local veterinarian, thus requiring a tremendous amount of care. The people at the pet hospital raised Flopper intending to release her as soon as she could care for herself. Unfortunately Flopper didn't want to be released.

Some young birds learn to recognize their parents or foster parents within a few hours of hatching. The impression is so strong that it lasts throughout the bird's life. This learning process is called imprinting. It seems that Flopper thinks she belongs with people because of those early experiences, so she'll probably be with people all her life. Imprinting is one of the reasons hand-reared birds are sometimes not suitable for release.

Flopper the Blue Jay stares aheadBlue jay intelligence - Blue jays belong to the family Corvidae. Their relatives include magpies, rooks and crows. Many people consider corvids to be among the most intelligent birds. We can see that crows and jays are opportunistic and adaptable. Some studies have indicated that crows can even count. And researchers have concluded that blue jays can learn from experiences. A young jay will eat a Monarch butterfly not realizing that it will make him sick. But, after the first experience of vomiting after eating a Monarch, a blue jay will avoid monarchs and their mimics, viceroys, in the future.

Flopper the Blue Jay in CageDiet and Adaptability - My mother was always impressed with children who would eat anything on their plate. "Oh, he's such a good eater," she would gush. In that regard, she would love blue jays. They can and will eat anything: fruit, nuts, seeds, insects, and even the eggs and babies of other birds. Animals with a varied diet have an advantage over animals with very specific dietary needs. Animals like jays can endure environmental changes that animals with special diets could not.

Blue jay nesting habits are also flexible. They build cup nests of a variety of materials in deciduous or coniferous trees. Their nests have been found from five to fifty feet above the ground.

Blue jays have also taken advantage of human expansion. Once a resident of open forests, they now have expanded to parks and suburban areas.

Flopper the Blue Jay on perchAggression - Blue jays are sort of the bullies of the bird feeders. They're noisy and bold enough to send other birds scattering. They will also dive-bomb a cat they feel is a threat to their little fledglings. Working cooperatively, they will mob owls and other birds of prey, chasing them out of their territory.

Flopper could be a long-time resident of The Outdoor Campus. Some tagged wild individuals have lived to be ten to twelve years old. The oldest blue jay on record lived to be fifteen. Chances are we could have Flopper's company for many years. That will give us lots of time to learn about her and share what we learn with visitors.

What should I do if I find a baby bird that appears to be orphaned or abandoned?
Resist the temptation to "rescue" baby birds unless you're positive the adults will not return. As young birds learn to fly, they often land on the ground. If fully feathered, they can at least hop onto lower branches or trees and shrubs. Even if you don't see the adult, it is likely nearby, unless your intervention has frightened it away.

If a nest with helpless young has blown out of a tree, put the nest back in the shrub or tree from which it came. If you see a baby bird far from the shelter of a tree or shrub, you can gently pick the bird up and place it in a nearby shrub, where its parents will likely find it.

Forget the myth that parent birds will abandon nests if their eggs or chicks have human scent. With few exceptions, birds have extremely poor senses of smell and won't detect your scent.

If you find baby birds that are definitely orphaned, contact the nearest animal shelter or raptor rehabilitation center. Such centers are legally permitted to care for wild birds.

~excerpt from The Fledgling Birder, An Introduction to South Dakota Birds and Birdwatching Basics, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, 1999