I’ve been reading lately about crows and their gift-giving. When birds bond with the people who help them, either by rescuing them, feeding them regularly, or other acts of interspecies kindness, the birds will bring gifts. I saw a photograph of two pine branches, each of them with a metal pull-tab from a can threaded onto the stems, a gift from a crow that a woman had been feeding regularly. There are other stories of elastic bands, little pieces of ceramic, coins. I feed birds regularly. I have a winter feeder (I can’t keep it up from April to November because of bears) and when I go out in the morning to fill it with seeds, sometimes the chickadees are so excited they will land on my wrists as I’m filling the turret. If I’m late, they come to the window sill above my kitchen sink and perch on it, looking in until I notice them. But the main relationship I have with birds is the one I cherish with the Steller’s jays. Almost every morning they arrive as soon as I turn the light on in the kitchen and make the fire. One appears, then another. Some mornings there are 5. I wish I could say I can tell them apart. I can’t, really, though in the fall I know the juveniles because they don’t yet have the lovely blue eyebrows of the adults. All through the 1st year of the pandemic, when we didn’t see anyone apart from masked cashiers in the grocery store and the masked lifeguards at the pool, I was so grateful for the company of jays. They’re cheerful, not exactly patient, and often quite curious. Sometimes I’d see one by the sliding glass doors leading from the kitchen to the deck where I feed them. Maybe it was simply waiting for food but I’d watch it peering in, looking around, its head cocked quizzically. When we have coffee on the upper deck on early summer mornings after our lake swim, we hear them chirring in the trees, watching us. Yes, they’re probably wanting seeds but they’re also engaging with us in a way that robins or hummingbirds don’t. Yesterday I was working in the greenhouse and two jays were in the big firs near me. They made a soft churring sound, not the call for food, but something else. Like other corvids, they are monogamous and they form long-term bonds with their mates. If I could tell them apart, I’d know which couples were which. The collective noun for a group of them? A band, or a party, or a scold. I don’t like any of those but I can’t think of anything better right now. Once I was sitting on the deck, listening to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing Handel. Maybe it was “As with rosy steps the morn” from Theodora, one of my favourite arias, and if I can’t remember exactly, it doesn’t matter. Because I noticed the jays were listening too. They were quiet in the trees, heads tilting to the music. No yelling for seeds or pushing each other off the deck railings. Just listening. We listened together. Remembering that, I think of Hafiz.
Build a House for men and birds.
Sit with them and play music.
For a day, for just one day,
talk about that which disturbs no one
and bring some peace,
into your beautiful eyes.
I can’t say the Steller’s jays bring me tangible gifts. No coins or scraps of cloth or tokens. But their company, their attention? It’s enough.