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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

Morning Hiccups


By Ranger Steve Mueller


Hic hiccup, hic hiccup can be heard in your yard early in the morning but not as likely later in the day. I refer to the blue jay’s morning call as a case of the hiccups but have not heard anyone else use that descriptive term. We each experience the world differently but hopefully it is with joy.

I told a friend blue jays are a rare sighting at Ody Brook during the winter. Some people see them in yards year-round but it is impossible to know if they are the same birds that are here in summer. Banding studies have shown summer residents migrate south. That indicates winter jays in the yard are northern migrants. 

Now that spring migration is underway, large flocks of blue jays are moving north. It implies jays are moving to breeding territories. Hopefully, your yard provides suitable nesting areas to meet their needs. Wilderness areas are essential for survival of many native species but they are not enough. We can provide living space on the small piece of Earth we inhabit that is equally important for species we consider common. 

A Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) perched on a tree branch. Photo by Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us).

Spend time in the yard relaxing and listening to the sounds of insects, birds, mammals, and frogs that add intrigue to our lives. Only one or two blue jays are currently guests at our bird feeder. Instead of a large flock passing through on their way to breeding sites, these birds have selected this site for summer breeding. 

I do not know what the hiccup call in the morning means to other jays or why it is used in the morning. A variety of calls are used and some I understand. Jays “like” to notify others of their displeasure with some neighbors. That might even be you. They give alarm calls to announce your presence.

When they locate a sleeping owl or see a hawk they will make a loud alarm call that attracts many bird species to see what is happening in the neighborhood. They gather near the perched predator and do their best to roust them. If the predator takes flight, jays and other species fly in from behind and peck the pursued bird on the back of the head. I have witnessed such attacks where the predator has blood streaming from its head. 

People, birds, wasps, and a great many life forms are protective of their living space and offspring. Birds are a good example of species that do their best to successfully protect and raise a family. I suspect the jay’s morning case of the hiccups has important meaning for its species but it will remain as secretive as our conversations are with dogs, cats, or birds that share our homes. Some phrases are understood but many are not. 

Some sounds give us pleasure and some warning. We like to sit on the porch enjoying a world filled with nature but sometimes it is not easy. There are those who try to kill neighbors. That is a sad commentary. People go to the store and purchase poisons to eliminate what are considered unsuitable neighbors. It is better to learn to be a good neighbor and adjust our behavior to share the world. 

We sit on our porch in spring sunshine and mosquitoes leave us alone. We have cleared the area around the house to allow good sun penetration to lounge chair areas. When it is cloudy, the buzzing sound of mosquitoes lets us know those females want our blood to nourish developing eggs. Male mosquitoes ignore us except as an indicator that females are likely present. The males could care less about our blood. They have amorous interests concerned with procreation. 

Various species have sounds we enjoy or use as warning. I have never liked the idea that the world is for me only. No trespassing signs are offensive but I understand that human visitors do not always comply with stewardships goals of people holding property titles. We allow people to walk Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but request they call or email first to learn expected neighborhood behavior that protects the livelihood of other species claiming the property as their home. Our mission is primarily to protect and increase biodiversity. It gives me the hiccups when people are not good stewards of nature niches for the world we inherited with our birth. Use chemical killers sparingly, care for creation, enjoy, and protect life that surrounds us. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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