Bathing a blue jay

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A long time ago when I would comment on the accomplishment of someone who had done something noteworthy, my husband would retort, ''Yeah, but I bet he never refueled an airplane in midair." That was my husband's job in the Air Force. He was a boom operator on a Boeing KC-135 Strato-tanker.The plane was equipped with a flying boom to provide fuel transfer to other planes

The refueling was done while the planes were in midair. My husband would lie on his belly in the rear of the plane and maneuver the boom to transfer fuel to other aircraft that needed fuel. He refueled many fighter jets during the Vietnam War.

His comment came back to me this week while I was watching an Arkadelphia woman on the Internet. She was being interviewed by Jay Leno on his late night show. She walked out where he was, and she was carrying a live chicken named Boo Boo. She was there to tell about doing CPR on the chicken and bringing it back to life after it drowned. As she held the spotted chicken, she told the hilarious story of how she was walking by and saw people trying to revive the obviously dead chicken. They were slinging it around, trying to revive it. She stopped and decided to do CPR, then chest compressions. After a while, the chicken's eyes popped open. She said she took it home and placed it in ICU (a cardboard box) for a couple of days, then it was fine.

While she was telling her story to Leno and his audience, I thought to myself, "Yeah, but I bet she never bathed a blue jay."

I actuallly did that. I bathed a blue jay.

I've written about Jay Jay, the baby blue jay that I rescued from my backyard during a threatening thunderstorm. I figure it fell from its nest or it might have been blown from the nest by the high winds. Unable to fly, It was flopping about in high grass. It wasn't feathered out but was covered with soft down.

Anyway, I grabbed the bird and ran for the house before we both got drenched.

I lined a cardboard box with shredded paper and placed the bird in the box, near the woodstove..

Thus began a four month long odyssey between Jay Jay and myself.

I fed it, talked with it, played with it, and gave it flying lessons in my living room.

But first off, I noticed it was scratching incessantly. It also had a musky odor.

I decided that a sponge bath was in order.

I partially filled the bathroom sink with warm water, added some gentle soap, and lowered the little orphan into the water, holding onto to him the whole time. I sudsed him with my free hand and gently massaged the bubbles onto his feathers. The bird didn't fight me, but it's big eyes begged me to hurry. I was careful not to get soap in his eyes as I soaped the top of his head.

Little black specks began to appear in the water. I refilled the sink with warm rinse water and began to rinse the suds away. Soon the rinse water was dotted with dozens and dozens of specks which I determined were mites.

No wonder the little bird had been scratching so badly.

After the bath was finished, I gently towel dried the trembling bird.

He smelled so nice, much like a newborn baby smells after a bath.

Back in his cage, Jay Jay spent an hour rearranging the few feathers he had. Then I sprayed his cage for mites.

His homeplace was a parakeet cage I had resurrected from the basement. From his cage he would look out the bay window at the wild birds eating at the feeder or perching on tree branches..

At night I would turn out the lights except for the one by the bay window. Attracted by the light, May flies would land and cling to the outside of the window. Jay Jay would become frenzied, flitting all about, when he saw the May flies. Once I caught one of the delicate flies and brought it close to his cage. He stretched his neck, grabbed the fly and gobbled it down.

From time to time, I would release Jay Jay from the cage and let him walk about on the carpet. He would come to me, wanting me to lift him up because he could not yet fly high enough to reach the chair arm. He played with a white marble. He would playfully push and shove the marble with his beak.

He began to feather out with blue and white plumage and tail feathers started to appear. He had a collar of black feathers on his throat and the sides of his head. A gray-blue crest appeared atop his head too.

At the time, I had an Amazon parrot named Mack.

I kept him in a large cage in the living room. Jay Jay showed no fear of Mack, but the parrot merely tolerated the blue jay.

After a while, I was able to perch both birds on top the large cage for short periods.

Mack would squawk and pull back from Jay Jay who pecked at the parrot's feathers or beak. Sometimes Jay Jay would open his mouth wide as if asking Mack to feed him.

At night with the birds in their respective cages, I would cover the cages to keep the birds warm.

They would settle in and never make a sound the whole night.

Jay Jay stayed with me in my country home for about four months before I released him in the trees near the house.

It was a slow acclimation as he adjusted to the outdoors.

He stayed around for several weeks moving from tree to tree. He would often fly to me when I called his name.

Sometimes he'd sit on the windowsill looking in at me as I sat at the dining room table.

One day he left and didn't return. I looked for him in the trees and called his name but I could not find him.

Then three days later I looked out by the dog pen and there he was, perched on the dog's drinking pail.

Eventually when bad weather came with sleet and snow, Jay Jay left for good.

I've often thought about the Jay and what happened to him.

I hope he made it.

Blue jays live only about four years.

Few can boast they had a bubble bath.