And then all your friends get interested in girls... in The Amalgamated Aggromulator

  • May 28, 2014, 9:24 a.m.
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  • Public

This (thank you for the pic, Wikipedia) is a western scrub jay, the sort of jay we see most often in our neighborhood in Portland. For scale, the whole bird might be a foot long, including the tail, or slightly less.

Small brainy birds that yell at cats, love peanuts, and take thought for the future.

So, all this spring, an unusually friendly scrub jay, whom we think nests in our yard in the photinia hedge that forms the west border of our front yard, has been methodically training my one-year-old cat Zoey to chase him.

(I have no idea which gender the jay is -- nor which gender I generally assume the jay is. The most true-to-life thing I could do would be to simply reverse the gender I use each time. I'll assume male for this post, for vague reasons that could be completely wrong.)

The jay always flies down and lands on the ground or on a pot close to the cat. If the cat ignores him, he hops closer. Then finally the intrigued cat slinks after him, and he zips a few feet away, and the cat darts after him, and the jay zips away again.

This has been refined over the last few months into a constant, effortless zip-zip-zip-zip all over the yard, with a more or less constant distance of four to six feet between bird and cat, with the jay calmly using the time to eat small insects and worms. The jay can do this all day without missing meals, and sometimes has spent his whole day this way. (At one point I was thinking of naming the jay "Lucy," because of the football.)

When the cat leaves off, the jay provokes things again, or is watching the cat from a branch close overhead. A loud double tap occasionally rings through the yard; this is the jay pecking a branch or the rim of a garden pot to reclaim the cat's attention.

I've been grading the jay's nuanced perceptiveness about the situation by the fact that the jay is still alive. This assessment could change suddenly at any time, of course. It is not possible to ask the bird -- or the cat -- any pertinent questions.

She always seems surprised when you respond to her rolling on her back by rubbing her belly, but she never stops you.

The jay almost never yells at the cat. It seems plausible to me to call the relationship friendly on the jay's part. Whether Zoey is aware of this angle on the jay's part is less certain; if anything, she seems perplexed. (Sometimes, not to stalk at all but apparently just wanting unseen solitude, she'll go under the Radio Flyer cart or, better yet, out to a particular favorite clump of tall grass in the vegetable garden she'll burrow into for a snooze.)

Zoey herself is a tomboyish female cat who is big and bold when alone with us and shamelessly skittish otherwise. In the house she is a tireless and avid hunter of flies, trapping them against windowpanes and munching them up by the dozen. Outside she probably caught one tiny bird -- unless she found it dead; there was a soft drift of tiny feathers on the doormat, anyway -- but otherwise is rather nonconfrontational when it comes to, say, squirrels, which are around jay size. That much to show I have no clear idea of how serious Zoey is in stalking jays to begin with, at least as far as actually catching one.

I had been waiting for some sort of applecart-upsetting -- "no Eden valid without serpent" (I forget whose that is) -- and a week ago...

The hooligan.

The cat was standing on the covered back porch, really a square external room where Mom has her plant division table and has all her convalescent-stage smaller plants, with the doors of the porch open to the back yard...

And this seemed to be the single day when the mating season of the crows and the jays was at its absolute peak. Every crow and every jay we saw, all over town, was either chasing another or being chased by another.

I was looking out the sliding glass door of the kitchen, I saw this little hooligan on the back porch, and I saw out through the back porch door and windows that our usually-solitary jay had company! A gray (young) jay was with him. The gray jay flew down, our jay flew with her, and I could tell that they landed...

... on the paved walk immediately outside the back porch door to the yard, and just around the corner, just out of view.

... which meant that the cat could get up to a dead run on the porch without the birds knowing anything about it, and right up to them -- a fact that Zoey was instantly electrically alive to! ...

She accelerated to a sprint. She exploded round the corner.

I couldn't see what happened then, but one second later there were two enraged jays chasing a terrified cat all over the back yard, along the back of the vegetable garden and up the center aisle and in between the raised beds, and then out and all around the front yard as well, by the sound, and then the cat came barrelling in through the front door.

She wouldn't go out for a while. When she did, hesitantly, our jay was out there in the back yard, picking through a dead pyracantha for a good piece of branch for a nest, by the look, and the jay alarm-cried at her, just as if she was one of the stranger-cats.

I thought the story was over. "No Eden valid without serpent."

But the other day, I heard a tap-tap-tap, and went round into the dahlia-pot area to investigate, and there was the jay again, flitting down and hopping close, trying to get Zoey to chase him.

... And, once again, he was by himself. Bad timing, Zoey! Bad timing!

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