Meet Bob & Alice & the kids

We have a truly magnificent back deck at our house. I can say that sort of thing because we're renters and I didn't have a damn thing to do with it. A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying an afternoon reading on said deck when I noticed a particular blue jay making himself apparent. I should note that I'm not exactly a bird person. (Enough of a not-a-bird-person that I told Chris we had a blue finch out back only to be told, in gentle terms, that there's no such thing.) That is to say, I recognize their existence, acknowledge their remarkable engineering and, at times, their notable plumage but, in general, ignore them. This particular blue jay wasn't having it. He was flying from tree to tree, making all kinds of racket, demanding I put down my book and notice him.

I did. And soon I noticed something else -- a nest in the high branches of one of the bigger lilac trees that flanks the deck. There, in the nest, was another blue jay. I watched them pretty closely, wondering if this was a permanent move or a stop-over. Within days, the population of the nest had tripled. When I peeked up to take a look, there were four tiny heads visible just above the top of the nest, all translucent orange beaks and bobbly, unsupported eagerness. (You can barely make out their wide-open mouths in the photo below. Grainy for all kinds of obvious "bad access" and "privacy rights" reasons.)

With the arrival of the baby birdies, the blue jays became slightly more aggressive, one of them fairly dive-bombing our heads whenever we went outside to sit. A few times we've been drawn outside by their loud squawking, only to discover two of them chasing off a squirrel or warning one another about a neighborhood cat on the premises.

I've spent part of the past week observing the birds -- who have, graciously enough, gotten much more generous and less cranky about our hanging out on our own deck -- and, intrigued by their behavior, I did a little readin' up on them. Turns out their very aggressive nature and loud cries often get them a bad rap. Many home owners don't like them. They're known to gang up on other birds and hog the seeds in feeders. They have a mob mentality. Me? I kind of admire that about them. (Of course, I probably wouldn't admire it if they weren't also awfully pretty. I forgive a lot in the face of pretty.)

But this is what I learned that endeared me most to our blue jay family: blue jays are monogamous for life. They pair up, man-birdie and lady-birdie, and with brains the size of peas manage to pull off a commitment most humans can't make work. During the brooding season -- when the female keeps the eggs warm -- the male goes out and gets her food, brings it back and feeds it to her. This is a lot like my own marriage, only without the eggs. Just me, on my ass, making my husband fetch me food. I feel I understand these birds.

And get this: after the babies are born and ready to fly the coop the blue jays travel together as a family unit for a couple of months. Not until fall, when the folks are certain the wee ones are ready to strike out on their own do they split up -- the kids heading off to their new lives and the parents setting out on the next adventure on their own. Kind of remarkable, no?