I recognized the sound the second I heard it. It was the same sound I’d woken to every morning when I lived in the dorms at Western Washington University. I’d lived in Fairhaven dorms, stack 6, and there was a huge Douglas fir outside my 2nd story window. I had my bed lofted — which is stupid, it just creates more room under the bed to make a bigger mess — and slept with my head to the window. And every morning, there would be a shriek like a banshee inches from my ears, as the neighborhood Stellar’s Jay roused the campus from its slumber.
And now, hundreds of miles and many years away from that memory, I found myself face to face with another jay.
Despite my immediate connotation of Stellar’s Jays (Cyanocitta stellari) as an unwanted alarm clock, I actually really like these birds. Like all members of the Corvidae family, they’re clever and gregarious. They’re pretty, too. It’s the only crested jay west of the rocky mountains, and I always liked to think of it as a little punk bird. Its shrieks kind of sound like an “OI-OI-OI-OI-OI” to me, although vocalizations can be widely diverse, ranging from pop punk “skreeka!” to the more familiar “ACK-ACK!” death growl.
Jays prefer coniferous forest with a mix of open space. The ranch fits that description perfectly.This is their natural habitat. I guess they must compete with the ravens and crows around here. Or maybe they have a little Corvidae bird club in a hollow tree somewhere. Ravens would be the wizened old bikers at the bar, knocking back double whiskeys. Crows hang out at the pool table and drink pitchers of whatever the domestic beer is. And Stellar’s Jays are those guys that come in, order a Bud and a shot of Fireball, change the channel on every TV, and leave before getting into a full-on brawl.
I don’t know why I was surprised to find a jay here, but I was. I’m really glad to see the jays here. They’re fun and entertaining. I just hope that they don’t resume their habit of waking me at an ungodly hour.