Alex Parker was in his Boulder, Colorado, backyard when Henry first appeared. The young blue jay looked a little scruffy and tired, but was very interested in what Parker was doing.
"I was outside working on a new mantel for our fireplace, and Henry flew in and perched on the gutter right above me," Parker tells MNN. "He was watching me and making a call I associate with fledglings asking their parents for food, and when I approached him he didn't shy away."
Parker says he thinks Henry was a fairly recent fledgling, due to his muted colors and some of his tuft-like feathers.
"He was pretty low energy, but generally alert and not showing any obvious signs of illness — just perhaps exhaustion," says Parker, a planetary astronomer based at the Southwest Research Institute.
Assuming the blue jay was hungry, Parker tossed some seeds up onto the roof next to the bird, but Henry didn't seem to know what to do with them.
"He eventually fluttered down onto my workbench, and he still seemed to have a hard time working out what to do with hard food. He’d peck at [the] seeds and move them around, but not much more."
Parker's partner, Annie Wylde, got some unsalted peanut butter from the pantry, and offered the bird a spoonful, which he loved. They put out some water and Henry hopped up onto the rim of the bowl and drank heartily.
More than anything, it seemed that it was parched. I put a bowl of water out while I continued working and the little birb started drinking like it hadn’t seen water in days. It was in the high 90s. pic.twitter.com/hU2TlroMBL— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) August 27, 2018
Later, Parker went out and bought Henry some suet, which he also ate with gusto. He even caught a few grasshoppers for the much happier bird.
"These seemed to stimulate a much stronger recognition of 'Oh, that's food!'" Parker says. "He would hop up and grab them quickly."
In an hour or so, Henry made quite the turnaround; he was much more energetic and was now hopping through the grass, picking at tree roots and crevices, hunting for insects.
A new place to hang out
Henry knew a good thing (and good people) when he found them. He returned the next day, more curious and more willing to try new foods, Parker says. He began eating seeds more easily and immediately swooped into the new bird bath that was set up for him. The friendly jay became a regular visitor.
Henry became a regular in the mornings. He’d fly to the house and make his special call in the morning so we could come out and spend a little time with him before he flew off foraging again. pic.twitter.com/Z1lGY7NJ3U— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) August 27, 2018
"He followed both of us around, and would come to the door and peer inside at us until we came out with him," Parker says. "In following mornings, he would fly to the bedroom window and call until we came out. We’d sit outside with coffee while he hopped around the garden catching more grasshoppers. He'd bring them over to show to us when he got them."
Basically, Henry is a Very Good Birb. pic.twitter.com/gtQqYx09aM— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) August 27, 2018
Henry showed great interest in his human friends and their activities. He was curious about anything shiny, and would investigate rings, earrings, computer screens and hair. He perched on Parker's ponytail one morning while he was watering the squash patch and often hung around Wylde, a writer and editor, when she was working on her laptop outside.
Henry is a most helpful writing companion. pic.twitter.com/OafwqHm4Zn— Annie Wylde (@annie_wylde) August 28, 2018
Since Henry's first visit in early August, his adult feathers have finished coming in and he's become more self-sufficient, gathering his own food. He's also teamed up with a group of blue jays and they showed him the nearby mulberry trees teeming with ripe fruit.
"These days, he doesn’t spend much time when he comes to visit, usually just enough to say hi and sneak a few treats from the patio table before flying back to the group of other blue jays," Parker says. "Today we think we spotted him sharing the treats he picked up from the table with another blue jay, which might indicate that he's found a mate!"