Among the Forest People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
VERYBODY who is acquainted with the Blue Jays knows
that they are a very brave family. That is the best
thing that you can say about them. To be sure, they
dress very handsomely, and there is no prettier sight,
a fine winter morning, than a flock of Blue
Jays flitting from branch to branch, dining off the
acorns on the oak trees, and cocking their crested heads
on one side as they look over the country. They are
great talkers then, and are always telling each other
just what to do; yet none of them ever do what they are
told to, so they might just as well stop giving advice.
The other people of the forest do not like the
Blue Jays at all, and if one of them gets into trouble they
will not help him out. This always has been so, and it
always will be so. If it could be winter all the time,
the Blue Jays could be liked well enough, for in cold
weather they eat seeds and nuts and do not quarrel so
much with others. It is in the summer that they become
bad neighbors. Then they live in the thickest part of
the woods and raise families of tiny, fuzzy babies in
their great coarse nests. It is then, too, that they
change their beautiful coats, and while
feathers are dropping off and the new ones are growing
they are not at all pretty. Oh, then it is the time to
beware of the Blue Jays!
They do very little talking during the summer, and the
forest people do not know when they are coming, unless
they see a flutter of blue wings among the branches.
The Blue Jays have a reason for keeping still then.
They are doing sly things, and they do not want to be
The wee babies grow fast and their mouths are always
open for more food. Father and Mother Blue Jay spend
all their time in the marketing, and they are not
content with seeds and berries. They visit the nests
of their bird neighbors, and then something very sad
happens. When the Blue Jays go to a nest there may be
four eggs in it; but when they go away there will not
be any left, nothing but pieces of broken egg-shell.
It is very, very sad,
but this is another of the
things which will always be so, and all that the other
birds can do is to watch and drive the Jays away.
There was once a young Blue Jay in the forest who was
larger than his brothers and sisters, and kept crowding
them toward the edge of the nest. When their father
came with a bit of food for them, he would stretch his
legs and flutter his wings and reach up for the first
bite. And because he was the largest and the
strongest, he usually got it. Sometimes, too, the
first bite was so big that there was nothing left for
anyone else to bite at. He was a very greedy fellow,
and he had no right to take more than his share, just
because he happened to be the first of the family to
break open the shell, or because he grew fast.
This same young Blue Jay used to brag about what he
would do when he got out of the nest, and his mother
him that he would get into trouble if he were
not careful. She said that even Blue Jays had to look
out for danger.
"Huh!" said the young Blue Jay;
"Now you talk like a bully," said Mother Blue Jay, "for
people who are really brave are always willing to be
But the young Blue Jay only crowded his brothers and
sisters more than usual, and thought, inside his
foolish little pin-feathery head, that when he got a
he'd show them what courage was.
After a while his chance came. All the small birds had
learned to flutter from branch to branch, and to hop
quite briskly over the ground. One afternoon they went
to a part of the forest where the ground was damp and
all was strange. The father and mother told their
children to keep close together and they would take
care of them; but the foolish young
wanted a chance to go alone, so he hid behind a tree
until the others were far ahead, and then he started
off another way. It was great fun for a time, and when
the feathered folk looked down at him he raised his
crest higher than ever and thought how he would scare
them when he was a little older.
The young Blue Jay was just thinking about this when he
saw something long and shining lying in the pathway
ahead. He remembered what his father had said about
snakes, and about one kind that wore rattles on their
tails. He wondered if this one had a rattle, and he
made up his mind to see how it was fastened on. "I am
a Blue Jay," he said to himself, "and I was never yet
afraid of anything."
The Rattlesnake, for it was he, raised his head to look
at the bird. The young Blue Jay saw that his eyes were
very bright. He looked right into them, and
see little pictures of himself upon their shining
surfaces. He stood still to look, and the Rattlesnake
came nearer. Then the young Blue Jay tried to see his
tail, but he couldn't look away from the Rattlesnake's
eyes, though he tried ever so hard.
The Rattlesnake now coiled up his body, flattened out
his head, and showed his teeth, while all the time his
queer forked tongue ran in and out of his mouth. Then
the young Blue Jay tried to move and found that he
All he could do was to stand there and
watch those glowing eyes and listen to the song which
the Rattlesnake began to sing:
"Through grass and fern,
With many a turn,
My shining body I draw.
In woodland shade
My home is made,
For this is the Forest Law.
To look in my eyes
Comes near to my poisoned jaw;
And birds o'erbold
I charm and hold,
For this is the Forest Law."
The Rattlesnake drew nearer and nearer, and the young
Blue Jay was shaking with fright, when there was a
rustle of wings, and his father and mother flew down
and around the Rattlesnake, screaming loudly to all the
other Jays, and making the Snake turn away from the
helpless little bird he had been about to strike. It
was a long time before the forest was quiet again, and
when it was, the Blue Jay family were safely in their
nest, and the Rattlesnake had gone home without his
After the young Blue Jay got over his fright, he began
to complain because he had not seen the Rattlesnake's
tail. Then, indeed, his patient mother gave him such
a scolding as he had never had in all his life,
and his father said that he deserved a sound pecking
for his foolishness.
When the young Blue Jay showed that he was sorry for
all the trouble that he had made, his parents let him
have some supper and go to bed; but not until he had
learned two sayings which he was always to remember.
And these were the sayings: "A really brave bird dares
to be afraid of some things," and, "If you go near
enough to see the tail of a danger, you may be struck
by its head."