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Ahab the Broken Blue Jay

“There’s a problem with wounded birds. Either they fly away from you one day, or else they never get better. They stay hurt no matter what you do.” – Jodi Picoult

Two months of photos

On March 7 this year, I noticed a blue jay who seemed to be hanging around way more than usual. He was perched heavily on the cross bar over the back deck on which we hang bird feeders. Blue jays always come and go, taking off with a loud screech and landing heavily on branches for only a few moments. This guy wasn’t budging.

As I watched him through a window, with a closer look through my camera’s telephoto lens, I realized one of his legs wasn’t functioning the way it should be and the foot and claws were askew. He had himself propped up on the bar, resting one foot and leaning on his stomach on the other side. Typically, blue jays have long legs that give them a sizable distance from what they’re standing on.

Blue jay with two good feet

As I continued to watch, I realized he was perched over the cracked corn feeder and would fly the two feet down to its base to get the corn. Because his left leg wasn’t functioning to grip the wire cage around the feeder, the poor guy would flap his left wing to balance his body so he could hang on. As soon as he lifted his wing, the damage to his little body was revealed. It looked as if he had been the victim of a predator, probably a hawk, as we often see and hear them in the area.

As he flapped his wing to stabilize himself, his injury was revealed.

We discussed capturing him to nurse him back to health, but his wings were still strong, and we didn’t want to traumatize him with an aggressive capture. I started putting cracked corn along the bar so he could get it while perched because he looked so uncomfortable with his wing flapping for stability at the feeder.

Gradually he got stronger. Because his wings were unhurt, he could fly well. He would land with one foot, with which he would hop on tree branches to shift his location.

After a while he could land on the wooden feeder for suet balls and nuts.

At the wooden feeder

Throughout March, April, and early May, he was a regular visitor to the yard. We had named him Ahab after the character in Moby Dick, whose leg had been chomped off by the great whale. (You can read more about my Moby Dick obsession here). We looked forward to his visits, one of us often saying out loud, “Hey Ahab” as he would clumsily land at the feeder.

Hey Ahab

For two months Ahab was a part of our daily lives. Through end of winter and early spring he came and went from the feeders and trees. We have noticed the blue jays tend to travel in packs, but we had a sense that Ahab was on his own. While other blue jays were always vocal, we never saw or heard Ahab call. We watched his left side heal, though, and he looked well in every other way.

Ahab’s healed leg

The last time I saw Ahab was on Mother’s Day, May 9. We’ll never know if he decided to fly off to a new home or once again became victim to a predator. I continue to look at every blue jay that comes into the yard to see if it’s him. As I write this on May 29, it’s been nearly three weeks.

Below is the last photo I took of him. He seems to be looking right at me – as if he knows me. Or as if he’s trying to say “Thank you for looking out for me. It’s time for me to move on now”.

Fly strong. Godspeed.

The last photo of Ahab, taken on May 9

UPDATE MAY 31: Ahab is back! At 4:30 today (Memorial Day) Ahab returned! This weekend (the unofficial start of summer) was like none other with rain every single day, and extreme rain on Sunday. The skies finally dried up in the afternoon but the sun didn’t come out until 7:00pm – just in time to go down. What a joy it was to see Ahab at the feeder!

Ahab on May 31

There he was with what I swear was a far off look in his eyes, as if he had stories to tell. Both Dick and I stood and watched him through the window, glad to have him home, as he watched us.

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