We spend a lot of time, effort, and money every year trying to protect various species from extinction. Most times, I totally get it: we sprayed DDT all over and it was screwing with California Condors, so we had to step in and protect them. Other times, I kind of wonder what the point is: if pandas don't want to have sex, isn't that natural selection pretty much taking its course? Every once in awhile, though, I come down on the complete opposite side of the equation: actively campaigning for the systematic murder of an entire animal species. And the Steller's Jay is on my hit list...
Just look at the cocky bastard.
When I first moved to the Northwest I couldn't help but notice the Steller's Jay (or the Long-crested Jay, Pine Jay, or Mountain Jay. But NOT a "Stellar Jay"). Blue Jays aren't particularly common back home, so I had only seen them a few times but I always thought they were really pretty, if not aggressive and mean. And now my new home was crawling with these gray and blue birds bouncing around the trees with their hilarious spiked haircuts. They're certainly more pleasant to look at than the bizarre crow mafia that dominates pretty much all of Western Washington.
Then the sun rose.
See, the Steller's Jay isn't really what you'd call a "songbird," but it sure seems to think it is. They seem to love greeting the sun every morning with their raucous calls, celebrating another beautiful day to be alive. Except they sound like this:
Disregard that bit about their "second most common call." I've never heard it, and it's obviously a lie to try and boost their reputation. No, the jays in my neighborhood prefer that raspy, croaking shriek. All of them - and if I had to guess based on the cacophony, I'd say there are roughly six million - begin squawking at each other the moment a sliver of light hits their beady little eyes, which in the long days of Seattle summer means as early as 5:30 am.
I sleep with my window open. No buildings in Seattle seem to have air conditioning, I like it cool when I'm sleeping, and I hate the feeling of still air. So in order to fall asleep comfortably, every morning I have the tradeoff of awaking to incessant shrieking, naively hoping that this will be the one day in the history of Steller's Jays that they don't carry on like that for an hour, then cursing the universe and getting up to shut the window before trying to fall back asleep.
"Oh, were you sleeping? Sorry, I was too busy being a jerk to notice."
Think I'm just some curmudgeon ranting about birds on the internet? I'm not the only one who hates Steller's Jays. Other birds hate them even more, since they're known to mimic hawk calls to scare other birds off their feeding grounds:
So why the hell are we tolerating it? We have the power to irrevocably alter nature, right? I say let's put it to use and kill off Cyanocitta stelleri. I know what you're thinking, "How could you endorse the extinction of a species of bird?" Fine, let's look at the ecological impact: what do Steller's Jays eat? Pretty much everything. Nuts, bugs, fruit, seeds, eggs, they don't care. You know what other animals eat that stuff? ALL OF THEM. There are plenty of critters that would happily slide into whatever food chain the jays vacate. Crisis averted.
Sometimes historical moments begin with a single man's action. This time I'm willing to be that man, as long as "action" can be interpreted to include "complaining."
Flickr photos Steller's Jay by Linda Tanner and img_3329 by Florin Chelaru used under a Creative Commons License.