“Animals talk to each other, of course.” So begins Mark Twain’s short story, “What Stumped the Blue Jays.” Jim Baker, a middle-aged miner in the wilds of California told him so. According to Baker, “some animals have only a limited education, and use only very simple words . . . whereas certain other animals have a large vocabulary, a fine command of language and a ready and fluent delivery; consequently these latter talk a great deal; they like it; they are conscious of their talent, and they enjoy ‘showing off.’” Baker, after a lifetime of observation of animals talking, decided the Blue Jay was the best talker of all.
Before telling Twain “a perfectly true fact” about a particular Blue Jay, Baker had this to say about all Blue Jays:
“There’s more to a bluejay than any other creature. He has got more moods, and more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; and, mind you, whatever a bluejay feels, he can put into language. And no commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book-talk – and bristling with metaphor, too – just bristling! And as for command of language – why you never see a bluejay get stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him! And another thing: I’ve noticed a good deal, and there’s no bird, or cow, or anything that uses as good grammar as a bluejay. You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does – but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use. Now I’ve never heard a jay use bad grammar but very seldom; and when they do, they are as ashamed as human; they shut right down and leave.”
Blue Jay Photo Courtesy of Ken Thomas
The perfectly true fact that Baker had to tell Twain was about the Blue Jay that discovered a knot-hole on the roof of an old deserted cabin and started dropping acorns down that hole thinking he could fill it up. After a day of trying the jay said to himself, “Well, I never struck no such hole as this before; I’m of the opinion it’s a totally new kind of a hole.” About five thousand jays come to see this hole and, eventually, one discovers the open door to the deserted cabin and sees the acorns spread all over the floor and all the jays have a good laugh.
“You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure – because he’s got feathers on him, and don’t belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I’ll tell you for why. A jay’s gifts, and instincts, and feelings, and interests, cover the whole ground. A jay hasn’t got any more principle than a Congressman. A jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive, a jay will betray; and four times out of five, a jay will go back on his solemnest promise. . . Now, on top of all this, there’s another thing; a jay can out-swear any gentleman in the mines. . . And there’s yet another thing; in the one little particular of scolding – just good, clean, out-and-out scolding – a bluejay can lay over anything, human or divine.”
After listening to that cousin of a Blue Jay at the top of this post, I believe that Stellar’s Jays are at least a close second to regular Blue Jays.