Birds: Bad Day in Birdland

Jogging down the secluded trails in Marquam Nature Park, my heavy breathing was interrupted by a loud cackle of birds. Not just any birds, it was a full-on shout fest among what sounded like Jays. Stopping to see what was going on I noticed that it was a flock of Steller Jays, all right.


The Steller Jay calls were non-stop for several minutes. There on a Douglas Fir branch sat a lone Owl. On closer inspection, it proved to be a Barred Owl. Since these big-eyed critters are usually nocturnal, making distinctive hoots over our heads in the moonlight, I was surprised to see one in the daylight. The jays must have flushed him out from his resting spot and they were making his morning miserable.

A group of Jays is often referred to as a “party” or a “band.” And these guys were partying hard and beating the band. They dive-bombed the Owl, attempting to peck its head, pick its feathers, and drive the predator away. These jays were certainly a babbling band of brothers, shouting and hollering with the best of Little Richard. They kept up their pestering for a full ten minutes.


The strange scene was punctuated by the fact that when the Owl finally flew away to a far away perch, the jays stopped their cackling and disbanded. I was not sure if the owl feeds on jays or jay eggs or not, which would justify their taunting. That part of the drama was not evident, yet is seemed like a bad day for all of the birds.


The worst part of the saga may be the Spotted Owl. It seems that research pins the demise of its nesting areas was more the result of the very aggressive Barred Owl than due to the disappearance of native Old Growth forests. Everything in nature seems to have a pecking order. Which species is on top seems in doubt from one evening or morning to the next.

So it goes in the day and night of Barred Owls and Steller’s Jays.