The Urban Scrub-Jay

Have humans invaded the Scrub-Jay domain? Or, is it the other way around.

A story about my little friend, Scrubby.

I first met Scrubby a little over 7 years ago, right after I retired. During my first year of retirement, I spent almost every afternoon sitting in our upper patio, reading. Well, reading,  thinking and decompressing.  I mention decompressing because my ever-increasing work load at Cal Poly had finally worn me down. I retired a year early and it wasn’t soon enough. My new little friend has been a big help during my recovery process, plus has reacquainted me with nature; something that has been in my backyard all along. Now, at last, I can see it, enjoy it and be close to it.

I usually bring along a bag of peanuts (lightly salted) and a glass of my favorite Chardonnay. I started tossing peanuts to Scrubby early on. He’d eat a few on the spot, then stash the rest, most in nearby potted plants.  It was quite entertaining. I read somewhere that Scrub-Jays can remember 200 stashes. I’m sure this is better than I could do.

Later, I learned that he goes nuts (no pun intended) over Cheddar cheese. Mild, medium, sharp. He flips. Over time, Scrubby would nudge in closer until he would sit comfortably about 12 inches from me, usually on the arm rest or back rail of my small patio bench. Then one day as I was reading, he swooped in and landed on my left knee. As we chatted “bird talk,” I slowly reached for the bag of peanuts as he eagerly watched. I poured a few peanuts into my left hand, then slowly extended my arm. With little hesitation, he ate out of my hand.

Scrubby, teasing my cat, Georgi.

Update: August, 2017

Sometime during the spring, Scrubby found a mate. I was delighted to see that they decided to build a nest in the upper part of our Bougainvillea bush, just outside the French doors off our second-floor master bedroom. 

The two very busy birds were pretty cagey in the nest building duties.  They never flew directly to the nest. Both birds would first land on the nearby stair railing and then look around.  Once satisfied they weren’t being watched by other birds or predators, they would fly through a small opening in the leaves.  I thought that was pretty clever.

I made it a point to not get close to their nest, including avoiding the stairs. I didn’t want to risk frightening them away.  On the other hand, I was very much looking forward to seeing their offspring leave the nest.  Well, I never did see any test flights or little birds fluttering around, so I figured they either flew off undetected, or perhaps didn’t survive.

Well, about a month ago I spotted Scrubby and his family in a nearby tree – all 4 of them. The 2 little ones appeared to be full grown, yet were sticking close to Mr. and Mrs. Scrubby. When Scrubby got anywhere near the kids, they would automatically open their beaks and flutter their wings, obviously still expecting to be fed.  I saw Scrubby give them a bug many times, but he refused to share the peanuts I gave him.  Instead, he seemed to give his offspring lessons on how to properly bury a peanut. I watch Scrubby Jr. almost every afternoon, struggling to properly bury a peanut. I get a big kick out of this. Scrubby Jr. really likes Cheddar cheese, too. 

Scrubby, perched over our Bonsai tree.

Scrubby on camping chair.

Update: October, 2019

Well, it’s been a bit over a year since I’ve seen my pal, Scrubby. I suspect he has moved on to the Scrub Jay here-after. There are several of his offspring hanging around our yard but Scrubby v1 remains the only Scrub Jay so far who would sit on my knee and eat out of my hand.

So, now I’m entertained by Scrubby v2 and perhaps Scrubby v3. While I’m still trying to befriend them like Scrubby v1, they do indulge in the goodies I set out for them. A few months ago they would eat shelled peanuts and cheddar cheese but as of late, they seem to prefer peanuts in the shell. In fact, they are very busy stashing these peanuts all around our yard, including our rain gutters (something I might regret this winter). Obviously, the birds are filling their storehouse for winter. I find it interesting how the Scrub Jays select the peanuts. They pick up one, then drop it, repeating this process 4 or 5 times or more before flying off with one. I guess they are testing the weight or listening to the noise when dropped to determine if the shell really contains peanuts. Pretty smart birds.

I very much miss Scrubby v1.

Update: April 26, 2020

I’m delighted to report that I have a new Scrubby. About 3 days ago a certain Scrub Jay started landing on my favorite brick patio on our hillside. Unlike the other Scrub Jays, this one landed close, maybe 2 or 3 feet away. So, I tossed him some peanuts and he gobbled them up. The next day, he landed on the small table just to the right of my patio chair. I offered him some peanuts, but he didn’t seem too interested in them. So, I slowly got up and headed to our kitchen to get some cheddar cheese. Sure enough, Scrubby was waiting patiently on the table. I tossed him a piece of cheese and without hesitation he grabbed it in his beak and off he went.

Yesterday, Scrubby arrived again for his cheese ration. This time and for the first time, he ate out of my hand!