Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay

Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay

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For fans of Wesley the Owl and The Soul of an Octopus, the story of a sick baby bird nursed back to health and into the wild by renowned writer/artist Julie Zickefoose.

When Jemima, a young orphaned blue jay, is brought to wildlife rehabilitator Julie Zickefoose, she is a virtually tailless, palm-sized bundle of gray-blue fluff. But she is starved and very sick. Julie’s constant care brings her around, and as Jemima is raised for eventual release, she takes over the house and the rest of the author's summer.

Shortly after release, Jemima turns up with a deadly disease. But medicating a free-flying wild bird is a challenge. When the PBS show Nature expresses interest in filming Jemima, Julie must train her to behave on camera, as the bird gets ever wilder. Jemima bonds with a wild jay, stretching her ties with the family. Throughout, Julie grapples with the fallout of Jemima’s illness, studies molt and migration, and does her best to keep Jemima strong and wild. She falls hard for this engaging, feisty and funny bird, a creative muse and source of strength through the author’s own heartbreaking changes.

Emotional and honest, Saving Jemima is a universal story of the communion between a wild creature and the human chosen to raise it.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328518958

  • ISBN-10: 1328518957

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $25.00

  • Publication Date: 09/10/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Julie Zickefoose
Author

Julie Zickefoose

Writer/artist JULIE ZICKEFOOSE is fascinated by the interface of birds and people. She is the author of Natural Gardening for Birds; Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods; The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds; and Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest. She is the only person ever to specialize in painting the day-to-day development of nestling birds. Studying blue jays, a familiar yet deeply mysterious species, has opened a new world to her. She lives and documents the lives of birds, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife on an 80-acre sanctuary in southeast Ohio.     
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  • reviews

    “A most intimate book about life, change, and the care of a nestling blue jay… Zickefoose has produced another hard-to-put-down winner!”—Booklist, *starred* review 

     

    “A heartwarming account for all interested in natural history, especially birds, animal behavior, and wildlife rehabilitation.”—Library Journal 

     

    "All blue jays have a penchant for stealing, but Jemima will steal your heart. Three cheers for this spunky baby bird! And three more for Julie Zickefoose, whose skilled and loving care saved Jemima's life—and whose glorious watercolors and riveting personal narrative brings Jemima Jay alive for us lucky readers. I loved this book and you will, too." —Sy Montgomery, author of How to Be A Good Creature 

     

    "Zickefoose’s engaging portrayal of Jemima is a great read. Beyond setting the record straight about the misunderstood role of imprinting, it is a work of love and passion for living and an appreciation of the natural world through the ambassador of a charismatic blue jay." —Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven and The Geese of Beaver Bog  

     

    "It’s amazing to be inspired by the grit and creative determination of a small blue jay but that’s exactly how the reader will feel, along with joy, pain, fear, relief, and compassion for plucky Jemima. She prevails against all odds, using her magnificent corvid brain to overcome every obstacle. This is not just a bird watcher’s story, but will touch all readers. Warm, joyful, deep, passionate, and multilayered, I recommend this book to everyone." —Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl 

     

    "Saving Jemima is a guide to living one’s life with kindness and courage. Julie Zickefoose is a poet, a philosopher, and a woman who takes life as it comes and makes each day a triumph. Like Julie (and like Jemima) you will crash and soar and learn to hold the delicacy of life gently in the palm of your hand." —Jane Stern, author of Ambulance Girl 

     

     "Saving Jemima is a story about an orphaned blue jay, but it is also about saving ourselves by letting go of the things we love. Julie Zickefoose describes Jemima in exquisite detail, the intricacies of raising her from babyhood to release, and the sorrows of the last goodbye. It is a beautiful portrait. I will never look at a blue jay in the same way again." —Jane Alexander, actress, conservationist, and author of Wild Things, Wild Places

  • excerpts
    IT ALL STARTED with an egg, as many things do: birds, turtles, platypuses. This time, what began was a notion, born of curiosity. It was the kind of curiosity that flames up when one stops to contemplate something so perfect and mysterious as a bird’s egg. It’s something we can’t open, something we aren’t given to understand, this capsule of liquid protein, encased in a glossy shell, that will, given time and warmth, produce a squirming bird. For some reason I can’t remember, I was on my hands and knees under a spreading Japanese maple in my southeast Ohio yard. It was May 16, 2016. And there in the grass beneath the maple was an egg, fresh and beautiful, an aqueous olive drab ground color, speckled and splotched with lilac, brown, and black. 

      

    “Now, that’s a blue jay egg,” I said, not really knowing how I knew it. I just knew it. My brain did an instant sorting of variables, such as size, color, shape, and what species might lay an egg like this in a rural Ohio yard, and spat out “blue jay.” I looked straight up, knowing the egg had to come from a nest. And I saw the white-spangled tail of a blue jay sticking out over the edge of a lopsided mess of twigs and vines and straw in the top canopy of the maple. I couldn’t believe that there was a jay nesting so close to the house, that I hadn’t known she was there, and most of all that she was sitting stolidly on her nest with me on hands and knees only eight feet below. 

      

    I cupped the egg in one hand and trundled quietly on three limbs toward the house, rising up only when I was out of the bird’s startle zone. With a flashlight held up behind it in a dark hallway, I held it in the curl of my fingers, shining the light through it, candling it. There was a yellow yolk floating in clear albumen. It was freshly laid, with no embryo visible as yet. I figured it rolled out of the nest, which looked a bit tilted, or even blew out when the jay wasn’t sitting. I decided to put it back. This involved waiting for the incubating bird to leave; a stepladder, Bill holding it tightly; and me climbing higher than I wanted to. Before I replaced the egg, I decided to take a photo of the nest. Lo and behold, there were two other eggs lying on the shallowest platform of black rootlets I’d ever seen. It wasn’t even a salad plate; it was a saucer. How did those eggs stay in the nest long enough for her to sit on them? Humbled as I generally am by the engineering and artistry of bird nests, I knew this was a crummy nest. I put the egg back anyway and hoped for the best. 

      

    Because I’m rarely content to hope for the best, I was soon launching a plan to protect the nest from climbing predators. I needed to get some sort of predator baffle around the tree’s trunk. I didn’t stop to wonder how the jay might fare without this intervention; I just forged ahead with my plan. That perfect egg, the vision of the bird growing within it, had set me on a crusade. 

      

    Early the next morning, the jay’s tail was still protruding over the nest rim, so I took off for a Home Depot thirty miles away, coming home with four long rectangular “lawn chutes” made of lightweight corrugated plastic. My idea was to construct a slick barrier to any climbing predator. I was kneeling beneath the maple, wrestling the chutes into place around the tree’s curvy trunk, when I saw some tiny eggshell fragments in a little pile in the grass, right where I’d found the egg yesterday. They were sticky with albumen. The little pile of shards told me that the deed was most likely done by a chipmunk who had climbed the tree, stuffed the egg in a cheek pouch, then climbed down to feast in the grass. Rats, rats, rats. Or: chipmunks, chipmunks, chipmunks. They are not the adorable sprites their appearance would have you believe. They’re bloodthirsty and hell on birds and their nests. 

      

    The incubating jay was nowhere to be seen. I pulled out the stepladder and climbed up to see if I could find any more clues. There, teetering on the edge of the nest, was a lone egg, stone cold. I knew the chipmunk would come back for it, and I couldn’t bear the thought. I picked it up and climbed back down the ladder.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328518958

  • ISBN-10: 1328518957

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $25.00

  • Publication Date: 09/10/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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