Robert Hitt Neill column 7-17-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jays take advantage of rays as they sunbathe

By Robert Hitt Neill

Let’s get it right out front on this’un: many of you will say 1) “Ain’t no way this could happen,” or 2) “That Neill boy would climb a tree to lie when he could tell the truth standing on the ground!” If you’re of such a mind, pick which judgment your ignorance dictates, and go on to the funnysides.

Because this here is a true story, from day before yesterday.

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We’ve been caught up in a period of cloudy days with intermittent showers, and it had showered during the morning, having just stopped as I ventured out onto the screen porch with a couple of PBS: peanut butter & ‘soggum ‘lasses sandwiches. I settled into the chaise lounge, set my milk and bread plate on the little table, and reached for the book I was currently engrossed in.  

I was well into the first PBS when the birds distracted me in the patio bay magnolia, whose red-seeded buds were just filling out, attracting such Brownspur denizens as bluejays, cardinals, mockingbirds, thrashers, yellowhammers, and sapsuckers. Today there were four jaybirds, two mockers, a thrasher and a pair of cardinals.

The recent shower had left some rainwater in a swag on one of the fiberglass panels atop the boardwalk leading to the Store, our remodeled plantation commissary guesthouse across the patio. As I watched, one of the bluejays splashed water all over himself (or herself), then flapped the few feet to the roof of the Store, alighting on the very edge of the bottom shingle.  

Then it laid down carefully on that roof, spread its wings out to each side, fanned out its tailfeathers like a turkey gobbler, except they bent down over the facial board instead of up, and proceeded to fluffle up its neck feathers and topknot. Then it just laid there; the sun had just come out to shine on that corner of the roof.

I swear, it looked like it was dead as a hammer!

Which it apparently looked like to its comrades, who came cawingly to check their buddy out, attracting the mockers, redbirds, and thrasher. Finally, enough birds were hopping around noisily, that the resting one aroused itself, stretched, and assured everyone that he/she was okay, but they were interrupting its nap. So saying, the bird flapped back over to the water, doused itself again, and same back to the same spot, repeating the ritual.

Doggone if it wasn’t sunbathing!

The other jaybirds caught on immediately. Understand that I am no fan of blue jays: they are noisy, raucous, fussy, and I’ve seen jays lead a mother dove off her nest, then send an assassin around the back door to peck holes in the baby doves’ heads. They’re mean and evil, although the Brownspur jaybirds have many times called me outside to shoot a snake for them. One hates to assign intelligence to one whom he dislikes, you know?

As I watched, the other three bluejays all doused themselves with water, flew to alight on the lower shingle edge of the Store roof, then fanned out their tailfeathers, dipping them down, spread out their wings, and fluffled up their neck and topknot feathers.  Four dead-looking jaybirds lying on the Store roof, catching their rays for the day!

Here’s the thing: I actually like mockingbirds, thrashers, and cardinals, and have always considered them to be smarter than jays. So I looked forward with anticipation to see what new wrinkle these more-intelligent species would add to the jaybird sunbathing routine.

None of them did! Not even copied them! The jaybirds re-wet themselves several times and repositioned themselves (until the roof heated up) but the other birds just bathed and pecked the red seed pods on the bay magnolia.

It was like finding out that Wile E. Coyote could actually think better than the Roadrunner! Of course, it was on Friday the 13th, come to think of it.