There's a pair of Western Scrub Jays, hunting in our yard. Earlier this spring, they had started construction on a nest in one of our trees, but we think they ended up nesting in the neighbors' yard. The two birds are currently hard at work, feeding a little family.
The jays are particularly keen on the bees in our backyard apiary. They grab up as many bees as they can hold in their crop, sometimes stopping to rub the stingers off on a branch or fence-top.
We can hear their babies shrieking with excitement when the parents approach the nest. (Interestingly, Robb has noticed that the resident mockingbird has learned this cry, and now starts his cycle of vocalizations with the sound of hungry baby jays.) Jays are very attentive parents, usually raising only one brood a season. The parents form long-term bonds, and the young may associate with their family for an entire year. Also, jays are smart, damn smart.
Western Scrub Jays are opportunistic omnivores. On pleasant weekends, Robb and I eat breakfast outside. The backyard cats come around asking their perpetual question, "Where is ... Egg and Cheese?"
The jays are interested as well. More than once, I've stepped away from my meal and heard the distinctive sounds of a hard beak tapping on a ceramic plate.
Much as I love seeing these birds in our yard, I also despair because I fear that they -- or their babies -- will fall prey to the feral cats. I can't move the cats indoors because they're not housebroken and also because Sleeves is terrified of being trapped indoors with the Scary Humans.
This is not an idle fear. Last spring, Cardigan caught a baby jay, which I managed to wrench out of his jaws.
Later that summer, the cats killed another jay, the bird whose trust I had earned, and who would eat from my hand. I still feel like a killer and still feel physically ill when I think that I had a part in this animal's death. If it hadn't been so comfortable in our yard, if it had been more wary, it might not have been killed by the cats.
While it's enchanting to see these birds up close, I really wish they would stay further away from our backyard cats.
I won't lie. I spend a lot of energy chasing the cats away from the birds.
The jays act totally unafraid. They yell at the cats and swoop at them like dive-bombers.
But bravery is one thing, and foolishness is another.
We no longer stock the bird feeders in our back yard after we saw Cardigan leap higher than we thought possible and catch a feeding bird. The cats are survivors and, despite the fact that we feed them quite well (Sleeves has a majestic belly), they regularly feast on birds and small mammals.
I'd like to be wrong about it, but I just don't think this story is going to end well.