While my son has been home from college this week for fall break, I’ve played hooky from writing on a few afternoons to take him to lunch, browse the mystery section of his favorite bookstore and shop for a new pair of Vans and hiking boots. Tomorrow, I’m hoping that he and his sister will agree to an outing at Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park — a beloved after-school hangout when they were younger. We probably visited the birds at least two or three times a month, always stopping in the gift shop afterward to buy a new Audubon plush bird (complete with authentic “squeeze me” sound) to add to their collection.
The kids had a black-capped chickadee, a great horned owl, a house finch and a western meadowlark, among others, but my son’s favorite was probably the blue jay since we had a couple of the beautiful (and obnoxiously loud) birds return to our back yard every spring and hide acorns in the crevices on the roof of our garage. He and his sister whiled away many an afternoon sprawled as motionless and silent as possible on the grass, watching the colorful birds swoop from tree to tree, singing and jeering.
Remembering this, I smile every time I see or hear a blue jay, especially a few weeks ago, when I wrote a story for PEOPLE about a jay that brightens the lives of a Florida family whenever their spirits are in need of a boost. Dina Theissen rescued Gracie the blue jay in 2015 as a baby when the bird was abandoned after it fell from its nest. She and her daughter, Alyssa, and husband, Ken, nursed the bird back to health and soon learned that “she” was actually a “he,” when his adult feathers grew in. But no matter. “Gracie,” they decided, was as good of a name as any.
After the Thiessens released Gracie to the wild, they thought they would never see him again, but they were wrong. For nearly three years, the bird has visited almost every day, giving Dina the courage and strength to recover from ovarian cancer last year. Gracie has now raised four broods of baby jays with his mate, and often brings them to the Thiessen’s back porch, where they crawl inside a small hole in the screen and call out noisily for peanuts and sunflower seeds — kind of like my son, when he comes home craving butterscotch brownies and banana nut bread.
Translation: I’m starving! Feed me!” A universal SOS call for every species. 😉