West Nile Virus and Blue Jays

West Nile Virus VictimThe most common fatalities of the West Nile Virus are not humans, but birds. All too often since the virus entered the United States whole flocks of corvids have been eviscerated.

This Blue Jay–from our back yard–died from West Nile Virus two months ago. Most of our ten strong scold, the collective noun used for a group of Blue Jays, died this summer from the disease. Those who did not die were driven off by a stronger, younger scold of jays, only to catch the disease and then die.

The symptoms of West Nile Virus in Jays and other Corvids are such:

Birds do not usually show signs of infection until the last stage of the disease, which is encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. An infected bird may appear drowsy, be unable to fly or walk properly; it may even have problems standing upright

Further, Blue Jays are known to be able to fly while very sick if they start from high in a tree, but cannot fly off from the ground, appear dazed and confused. One neighbor reported a bird falling dead right out of the sky.

Indeed, we have very few Blue Jays left.

This is sad, they are fun birds with big, inquisitive characters. We named most of them, got to know them well. We fed them every day. They knew our patterns and would squawk at us or chatter with us when they were hungry or just wanted to show off.

Jays are my favorite birds. One of the first encounters I ever had with a bird was with a Mexican Jay in Big Bend National Park. I spent hours driving across the Valley this spring looking for the elusive Brown Jay. The raucous calls and shenanigans of Green Jays are impossible to beat once you’ve seen them, looking as they do like a Blue and Green Groucho Marx:
Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas)
And at Yosemite I saw a Steller’s Jay for the first time. A true high altitude beauty.

Now, here in our yard there are no more birds, except for the ugly and over-proliferating White-winged Dove to take the old family’s place. A few Jays linger, but they don’t know us and we don’t know them yet. Hopefully the disease will pass with the coming of fall and cooler weather. Until then, I won’t be investing in the habits of our back yard friends.

One Response to “West Nile Virus and Blue Jays”

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