Western Scrub Jay - Delayed Gratification
- photo by J. Cambpell-Smith
Unusual yet functional family units, scrub wisdom and connection to scrub spirits, theft and appropriation, urban wisdom, growth in urban areas, material wealth, saving something for later, delayed gratification, problem solving, creativity, adapting and learning, great intelligence.
The Western Scrub-Jay (also known as the California Jay and Long-Tailed Jay) is a large songbird found in North America, with distinct blue, white and gray plumage. There are many subspecies of the Western scrub-jay, whose colourings all differ slightly. The Western scrub-jay is non-migratory, urbanised and easily tamed, and is a frequent visitor to bird feeders. It is noted for its bold habit and harsh, scratchy calls. The scrub-jay is generally monogamous, and the pair both help to create the nest and raise offspring. Family groups will be assisted by helper males and females who will not breed.
Western scrub-jays are omnivorous, forage in pairs, small flocks or in family groups in scrub; preferring juniper, oak and mesquite. They also feed on the parasites of mule deer. In areas where acorns are abundant, the scrub-jay's beak becomes slightly hooked to assist them with accessing the acorns. Western scrub-jays are highly intelligent, like all corvids, and engage in caching (burying food for later), having excellent spatial memory. Jays that have previously stolen the caches of other birds will notice if they are being observed while caching, and will dig up their caches and rehide them to prevent theft. They - like some other corvids - are known for stealing and hoarding brightly coloured objects.
Lessons and Challenges:
All birds and animals that cache teach us the benefits of delayed gratification. In a world where most animals seek immediate gratification, eating 'now,' mating 'now,' to actually have the ability or foresight to cache food and save it up for use when it is necessary is an unusual but brilliant adaptation.
Delayed gratification enables us to save up resources and things that nourish us for later, it also allows us to keep working towards a future goal, even though we're not getting much short-term gratification. It may involve slogging it through a difficult job to get a promotion, a harrowing university course to get the degree or diploma you've always wanted, or to simply see through the tough times with a partner or friend, because you trust the gratification will come in the future. Those looking to find strength to see through the hard times could do well to look towards scrub jay.
Western scrub jays are known for their 'unusual' family units, where a monogamous pair is assisted by offspring who rarely mate, and instead feed their parent's offspring. This works for them, and has lead the scrub jay to be a very successful breeder and have high populations in different areas. Scrub jay teaches us that we don't need to have a 'normal' or 'mainstream' family unit in order to be successful (although we need some kind of family unit!) It may be that our 'family' consists of friends, extended family members, or even professionals like doctors, therapists or spiritual healers. What is important is not how conventional the family unit looks from the outside, but how successful it is within.
All scrub jays have a connection to scrub wisdom and a connection to scrub spirits as they are able to live within the scrub very successfully, and exploit a range of landscapes, plants and animals for their survival. For those wishing to contact or work with scrub land spirits or plant spirits, the scrub jay can be an animal intermediary to assist with this.
The scrub jay can teach us about the positives and negatives of theft and appropriation. Many members of the Western scrub jay species will actually go out of their way to witness other jays burying/caching their food, so that they may steal or appropriate someone else's catch. They teach us that sometimes it actually is healthy or appropriate to 'take' nourishment from others in order to nourish the self. This is particularly true of most creative types (writers, artists, etc.) who can never truly be 'original,' whether they are aware of it or not, some level of appropriation occurs. Scrub jay teaches us that this sort of theft has many layers of meaning, some positive, and some not so positive (especially depending on the nature of the theft). All orientations towards theft and its impact on others, can be addressed by Western scrub jay.
Any animal that has adapted so well to urban areas, teaches urban wisdom. Many people can often put down the suburbs as places that aren't that nourishing, but if this were true, so many animals would not be moving into our urban areas to exploit them for their own nourishment.
Any animal who experiences a population explosion in an urban environment, also teaches about how to grow in urban areas. Scrub jay suggests that you don't need to go that far out into 'nature' (or a concept of a pristine nature) in order to experience a vibrant, positive and spiritual connection to the spirits, land, nature, people around you.
Scrub jay's ability to save or store food for later suggests an element of abundance in their resources. Scrub jay can teach us how to find and accept material wealth in our lives, and how to sustain that wealth for ourselves by storing some away for later. This might come in the form of 'caching' our own money into investments.
All corvids teach about problem-solving. The ability to problem-solve effectively is considered one of the most advanced forms of thought that the more creative and intelligent of creatures possess; cetaceans, corvids and humans among others. The ability to find solutions when none present themselves obviously requires lateral thinking, creativity and a willingness to be innovative and pioneering. Scrub jay teaches and fosters this ability as a guide, its presence in your life suggests that the ability to problem-solve is strong in you at this time. It also includes the ability to problem-solve on behalf of others.
All corvids teach about adapting, learning, and passing on those adaptations and learnings to others. Scrub jay points out that you have a lot that is of value to teach others, though it may be in niche subjects. Emphasis is on teaching others casually, through the willingness to impart personal knowledge and facilitate the adaptation and growth of others. It's not about price or material gain (though all corvids can help you to find a way to materially enrich yourself if need be), but the community and group growth that can occur through the sharing of knowledge.
The Shadow Aspects:
Those who dislike or fear scrub jay, may find that they have problems with the concept of theft and appropriation. It may be that they disdain art or writing as being 'un-original' when they can discern sources or possible influences. It might be that they constantly struggle to create something truly original and deny their own influences. It could be that they take too much, or too freely from others without giving thanks or acknowledging those they are influenced by.
Scrub jay as a shadow guide can also indicate people who always want everything 'now,' and therefore rarely save for later, or plan for later. Scrub jay as a shadow guide confronts people to look at their saving and planning habits, if they have any at all; and encourage them to begin cultivating an appreciation for delayed gratification.
Like all animal helpers, this animal will only appear when right and appropriate, and cannot be forced to visit you, commune with you, or share messages with you. Scrub jay energy is more easily accessed in scrublands, or in urban areas. For those who are lucky enough to live with jays in their neighbourhood, jay may even come into your life by literally visiting you physically on a regular basis. For those who don't have scrub jay nearby, consider invoking scrub jay energy via meditations on the nature of scrub or scrubland. Scrub jay is a less accessible animal energy than some of the more popular corvid animal energies and guides like raven or even crow, however, like all corvids, scrub jay will be quite vocal and can become a thought-provoking and loyal guide if you let him/her.