He gave the little guy to me to raise. He was older, stronger, and easier to care for than some of the other babies we'd fostered. He was my constant companion, riding around on my shoulder or perched on my finger. When I was asleep or away from home, I kept him in a parakeet cage we had on hand for just such a situation. But the rest of the time he was free. I let him fly around my room. Even better, he liked to be outside. I spent hours outside with him every day. He'd hop around the garden, or sit in trees whose branches were low enough for me to reach. Gradually he started making short flights, at first taking off from my finger but later he was able to fly from my shoulder or even my head!
As he got better at flying, he'd be gone for longer periods. Sometimes I'd lose track of where he was. Yet every time I wanted him to come back, I'd call him. "Chip, Chip, Chipper!" and he'd fly back to me and land on my finger or on the ground at my feet. I'd reach my hand down and he'd hop right up. As he grew he wanted to be in the trees longer and longer. He seemed to especially enjoy the mulberries!
Soon it was time for the agonizing decision: Would it be wrong to keep him? If I let him go would he make it? I knew he was finding food and as the weeks went by he was less and less hungry for me to feed him. My parents were against keeping a wild thing in a cage, and I felt the same way. Still it was terribly hard to think about letting him go. Finally we decided he should have a chance to be free. He had such strong instincts I believed he would be alright. Since there were no blue jays in our neighborhood, we decided to take him to a nearby forest preserve nature area where we'd seen and heard blue jays before.
He took off from my finger as he had so many times before at home in our back yard. This time he seemed to sense something was different. He flew into a pine tree and sat there for a long time. He seemed to be watching us for a while. As I watched him with mixed emotions and tears in my eyes, he took off from that tree and flew away. I watched him until I couldn't see him anymore. My mom was with me. We waited, but he didn't come back. We got back in the car and drove back home.
I thought about him often in the days the followed. I wondered if he was ok. I realized I'd never know if he'd make it or not.
About two weeks later, in a tall elm outside my bedroom window, I heard the call of a blue jay for the first time since we'd let Chipper go. I thought it was odd, as we'd never heard a blue jay in our neighborhood before. That bird was out there for at least 15 minutes calling his blue jay call. And the same thing happened every morning for the rest of the summer and into the fall.
I'd go outside and look up in the tree where he was, looking very 'chipper.' He seemed to get more active when I came outside, hopping around in the branches. But he wouldn't respond to the old call that got Chipper back on my finger or down at my feet.
The following spring, the morning ritual began again. Every morning between 7 - 7:30, a blue jay would fly into an elm tree - the closest tree to my bedroom, and call his blue jay call for 10 minutes or so. Then he'd fly away and we wouldn't hear another blue jay in the neighborhood until the next morning when that solitary jay would come back to the same tree and repeat the same ritual. This happened for several years, until one spring he didn't come back.
It was once again quiet in the neighborhood at the 7:00 o'clock hour, except for the more polite sparrows, finches, cardinals, and other birds who sang their happy, but softer morning tunes. I can't prove it was, and no one can tell me it wasn't. I still believe it was Chipper coming back to say good morning and let us know he hadn't forgotten us.