My Earliest Impression of Teedeeuk was that he gave life and color and a voice to a winter landscape which without him would be a frozen silence. And to this day there is something in the bright flash of his wing or his rousing call that heartens a lone man in the solitude like the first gleam and crackle of a campfire. Not till one went away to his own mysterious affairs did I ask, with a vague wonder, what fickle or stable character is hidden under those gay feathers? What merry or mocking spirit animates him when he swoops silently at a cat, or whistles at a man, or sounds his tallyho over a hunted fox, or sends back the wild cry of a circling hawk?
Since these questions are beyond me or, I suppose, any man, why not let Teedeeuk himself answer them by his actions? Even so we must be careful not to misunderstand him. More than any other bird of my acquaintance, he has a way with him, a way which changes to suit whatever part he may be playing in the woodfolk comedy. It looks like a gallant way, but is not, when he flits in haste to answer a distress call, his crest cocked like a champion; or it looks like an ingratiating way when he finds me quiet in the woods and perches near my head to repeat his Indian name, which is like other bird sounds in that it has different meanings when uttered on a higher or lower pitch, in forte or pianissimo volume.
The last two syllables of that name, with the "dee" prolonged and accented, are the blue jay's alarm call as he speeds over pasture and woodland.
The first time his Indian name ever sounded softly in my ear was on a winter day when I found a blue jay caught in a jump trap which a neighbor's boy had set under a cedar and had sprinkled liberally with grain. In pecking at the bait Teedeeuk had sprung the trap, which clamped its jaws on the base of his bill, holding him fast but harming him not at all. There was no fear in his bright eye when I bent over him, but only bewilderment with something else that may have been surprise or relief at my coming. When set free he obeyed his first impulse by flying off with a cry of resentment, but in a moment he returned, apparently forgetful of the trap in his curiosity over the boy. From branch to branch of the cedar he flitted, just out of reach, repeating his Indian name with variations, dee-uk, tee-dee-uk, tiddy-dee-uk, each with an upslide, as if saying in his most ingratiating way, "You might at least tell me who you are, and what you are doing here, and where your nest is, and all about it. I will find out anyway."
How could a boy confidently interpret the anima of a blue jay or of any other bird? The answer is simple, and fortunately there is no need of calling any mystic or psychic sense to our aid. Aside from action Teedeeuk always gives one visible sign of his changing emotions. Even as you may know something of the mind of a dog from his tail, whether tucked or stiffened or waving or wagging, so you may enter into the mind of a blue jay by keeping an attentive eye on his crest, which is seldom quiet except when he is himself at rest. When well pleased with what he sees or hears or does, all of his feathers are as one feather. When he is greatly surprised or excited the crest points forward of the perpendicular; or when he is frightened it bristles out like a bottle brush. When all his feathers are snugged down so close that you think he has no crest, that is the very moment when Teedeeuk is eloquently revealing that he does not want to be noticed—that he is snooping into what the woodfolk might regard as their private affairs.
In the last-named habit is a possible explanation of why some birds show uneasiness or hostility when a blue jay appears among them. It is Teedeeuk's particular pleasure to play the role of Paul Pry, and woodfolk have the same aversion to such a character as we do when he appears in human form. Although he does no harm by his snooping, this charge too is added to what it seems to me is an already unwarranted list of prejudices against him.
For example, it is commonly stated that the blue jay is a cruel bird, a troublemaker, a nest robber, a killer of fledglings, a feathered villain and a reprobate.
Now it happens that in my childhood one of my pleasures was to watch the many feathered folk that flocked to the table I set for them. Child training was rather strict in those days, when good manners were the hallmark of good breeding, and it seemed to me that Teedeeuk had excellent table manners. For all his bold appearance he was, next to the lovable chickadees, the most careful to give no offense.
Later, in a more thickly settled corner of New England, this childhood pleasure was renewed by setting a birds' table every winter for 36 consecutive years. Between whiles I made several brief winter camps in the Canadian wilds, where a bountiful table was set outside my cabin window. I know not how many hundred jays or how many thousand individuals of other species were directly under my eye, but I never saw Teedeeuk begin a quarrel with any other bird, although several times I saw one or another of them chivvy him away from the table.
As for nest robbing, only twice in a lifetime have I seen a blue jay eat eggs. And an honored acquaintance of mine, who has been a lifelong observer of birds, tells me that he once, just once, saw a blue jay throw fledgling sparrows out of a nest, apparently in sheer mischief since he flew off without eating them.