May 5, 2011


A blue jay has moved into my garden. I haven’t seen one for a few years and so I was surprised to glimpse him sitting on the tree branch outside my kitchen window, his color bright and his crown a spray of black feathers. I admit I don’t do much to attract birds to the yard. I have a bird bath filled with fresh water and a ball of suet that hangs from a chain where I can see it. Beyond these accommodations, the birds must fend for themselves.

I think the suet attracted the blue jay. He sat eyeing it from his branch for a time; then he made a sudden swoop with his claws outstretched.Unfortunately, he knew nothing of aerodynamics or that the force and speed of his flight would set the suet swinging like a tether ball. Unable to grasp his prey, he nearly plummeted to the ground before righting himself and returning to his branch.

In the interval, a cloud of finches landed on the suet, covering it so completely that the ball became invisible. For a time, they pecked in a frenzy and then, as if upon a signal, they darted off, leaving the suet swinging.   

 Had the blue jay learned from their behavior, I wondered. He seemed to be thinking.  Then, with his wings outstretch, he attacked for a second time with greater speed, if that were possible. But the outcome was as before. The object swung away and the bird almost hit the ground before righting himself.

(“The Strength of the Wind and the Sun” illustrated by Milo Winter)

How galling for him, I thought, to fail where smaller birds have succeeded. “The Strength of the Wind and the Sun”, an Aesop fable, popped into my head. In the story, the Wind enters into a competition with the Sun to prove which of them has the greatest power.  When they see a traveler walking below, they agree that whichever of them succeeds in removing the traveler’s cloak, that element shall be the winner. The Wind goes first and begins to roar but the man responds by wrapping his garment more tightly about him.  Finally, exhausted, the Wind admits defeat and the Sun, who has been awaiting his turn, comes out from behind a cloud. He shines gently on the man who, growing warm, removes his covering and seeks a shady place under a tree.  

Watching the blue jay sitting in frustration on his branch, I could only surmise he’d never read that fable.   

(illustration by Milo Winter)