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October 17, 2011

Palmway Hammock



This appeared originally in a slightly different form in “The Palm Beach Post”, October 9, 2010.

I have no idea whatever possessed me to think I could get a Blue Jay to take a peanut out of my hand. I’m not even sure how common this interaction is between people and Blue Jays, but I had never heard of it. Florida Scrub Jays taking food from people is a fairly common occurrence. Many people have reported human/bird interaction with chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, bluebirds – all birds we don’t have in our South Florida area. I found many articles on the Internet about how to hand – feed wild birds, so it must be fairly commonplace to do so.

It all started with me thinking I could distract and dissuade the every-present squirrels from emptying our bird feeder at “Palmway Hammock”.  I decided I would try offering them peanuts somewhere else in our yard. Talk about a positive attitude! So I set up a flat platform feeder with a handful of peanuts in it. Sure enough, the squirrels found it faster than it took me to write this sentence. They emptied it just as fast, which sent them right back to the regular bird feeder.

For several days I put a handful of peanuts on the squirrel platform, continuing to think that eventually they would forsake the bird feeder for the obviously more scrumptious peanuts. In the meantime, the Blue Jays found the peanuts.  I began going out onto the patio when I heard the Blue Jays making  noises, and said, “Anybody want a peanut?” (Remember this line from the movie “The Princess Bride”?) Then I would put the peanuts on the feeder.

Pretty soon a Blue Jay came over and sat in a small tree by the porch at the edge of the patio, watching me closely. He seemed a bit smaller than the other Blue Jays and had tufts of soft white feathers sticking out of his sides near his tail, which helped distinguish him from the other Blue Jays. I held out a few peanuts in my hand towards him. He cocked his dark eye at me, but would come no closer.

Every day when I heard the Blue Jays  – they can be very vocal – I went out on the patio with a few peanuts in my hand. The fuzzy-sided Blue Jay would sit in the small tree by the patio, and I started holding the peanuts up towards him. Sure enough, one day he hopped down on a branch very close and took a peanut right out of my hand. This was repeated almost daily for several months. And just to reassure you – I am no fool.  They had successfully trained me!

After discussing this with my friend, Sarah, I began to suspect that she might have stumbled onto one explanation for this unusual behavior. When she was a girl, she found a young Blue Jay that had fallen out of a nest, and she put it in a cage and hand-fed it until it grew up, then released it in her yard. It hung around for quite some time, often taking food out of her hand. Eventually, it disappeared. I wondered if perhaps “my” Blue Jay had been a rehabilitated bird. It did seem smaller than the others, and it did have those unusual fuzzy-looking feathers on its sides. And it showed no fear of me. Perhaps this indicated that it hadn’t had a “normal” upbringing.

None of the other Blue Jays that visit our yard will come that close. They will land in the small tree at the edge of the patio, but they won’t come any nearer. When I put a peanut in a crotch of the tree and move away, they will come down and retrieve the nut – but not from my hand.

When we returned from being away almost 3 months this summer, I wondered if “my” Blue Jay would still be around. This would be the second year of our “relationship”. I heard jays in the backyard one morning, grabbed a handful of peanuts, and went out on the patio and said, “Anybody want a peanut?” There in the small tree was my fuzzy-sided Blue Jay, watching my every move. He came closer to me, and as I held my hand out to him, he reached out from his branch and took one of the peanuts. Occasionally, he will see me sitting on the porch, come closer, start fussing at me, and hop onto his special porch, waiting for a peanut.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure why this Blue Jay and none of the others behave this way. And I am torn as to whether to feed it or not. There are plenty of natural sources of food around our yard – berries and bugs. I suppose there’s not much difference between handing out peanuts and dumping a pile of seeds on the bird feeder. There’s a part of me that resists wanting to turn a wild thing into a pet. In fact, I have avoided giving him/her a name. But, on the other hand, there is a childish delight in being that close to a wild bird and having it accept food from your hand. Seeing that dark eye watching you, being so close you can see each and every feather, the scales on its legs and feet, the nails on its toes! There’s no denying it – it is a thrill. And I’ll probably keep right on doing it.

Note: You can do an internet search for my name – Ann Yeend Weinrich – or the Palm Beach Post – to read my previous articles.





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  1. sarahdavisdean permalink

    Well, Ann, I really enjoyed reading this article. It sure reminded me of “my” blue jay and the great joy I too felt when it would fly onto my shoulder when I went outsuide and beg for food. After the second season (I think), it didn’t come back. I wondered if it had reached sexual maturity and had decided to “fly the coup”!!

    xo, Sarah

  2. This reminds me of a neighbor who “trained” a Red-Bellied woodpecker to take peanuts, catching them in mid-air. This was great and provided a lot of entertainment to my neighbor, until the woodpecker learned that he could get more peanuts by drumming on my neighbor’s metal downspout. He became a slave to the woodpecker, as the drumming on the downspout was so loud, he had to run out to feed the darn thing to stop the drumming!

  3. Colene permalink

    I live in Canada and I am very close to hand feeding the Blue Jays in my area. Perhaps because it is fall and food is becoming scarce they are more willing to take a chance. They will come within a few inches of my hand to retrieve a peanut in the shell. The next step is to actually take it from my hand. There are about 10 of them that are all willing to do this so I’m not sure if it has anything to do with hand raising. Chickadees are quite easy to train to do this but I really think you have to offer some very prized treats (whole nuts or pecan pieces work well) or food has to be scarce.

    • Hi, Colene. We now live in North Carolina and the birds I’m working on are Carolina Chickadees. They come pretty close, but not near my hand yet. Guess I’ll just have to be patient. My husband recently got 8 chickens and they eat out of my hand!! And they will lay eggs!!!

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