It was spring and I was working in the Terminal Building at Liberty State Park. My job was to direct the tourists to the boat that would take them to the Statue of Liberty. To do this effectively, I had to stand in the concourse of the Terminal Building by the gate and beacon to tourists with tickets in their hands.
In the mornings, the job could be very busy as bus after bus would come in and drop off hundreds of students. But by mid-morning, the students and tourists were well on their way and the concourse was usually quiet, except for this spring morning.
Three Blue Jays were in the building. I figured that they had dodged down into the concourse before last night’s rain. The concourse is an historic rail shed that stands about two stories high with several glass ceiling panels and four doorways that lead out from opposite sides of the building toward the historic train tracks, ferry pier and open fields and trees of the park.
All morning, as I answered tourists’ questions and directed students to the boats, I had seen the Blue Jays flying back and forth calling frantically to each other. They would rise up from the rafters and bump their heads on the glass ceilings at the top. Up and down they went seemingly dumbfounded that they could not get to the clear blue sky above. They would consult with each other, try again to flutter against the glass then return to the rafters to sit and look around.
As I was pulling back the gate to let another batch of tourists to the boats, the Blue Jays decided to leave my end of the concourse and head down to the rafters at the other end. From this location they spent another hour attempting to fly upward and out to the blue sky. Each time they failed.
After the morning rush of tourists were on their way, I leaned on the gate and wondered what would happen to the Blue Jays. Was there anything I could do? From my human perspective, I figured that the Jays believed they were in a forest and should be able to fly up to the sky where they could continue their travels and find food. But the human world they had become trapped in did not operate the same as a forest.
Another bus load of tourists, this time senior citizens, came into the concourse and headed toward me and the gate. Their big smiles indicated they were excited about their sunny day trip to the Statue of Liberty. I answered some questions then put them through and finally returned to my observation of the Blue Jays.
The Jays had flown back across the concourse to my end of the building and were now sitting in the rafters where they had probably entered the evening before. I looked at them and thought their heads seemed to hang and their shoulders seemed to slump. They looked discouraged and hopeless. I worried they would become victims of another human-made obstacle that has destroyed hundreds of birds over the years. I kept watch over them as I took my lunch at one of the vendor tables.
Returning tourists were soon stopping by to have lunch in the concourse. This brought an eager flock of about twenty-five House Sparrows who daily danced around the tables chirping and teasing the tourists who oblige them with bits of potato chips and cookies. Crumbs were strewn everywhere. The birds dash around and gathered every crumb.
By mid-afternoon, no one was left in the terminal, except for me, standing there next to the ferry sign.
With the floor cleared of food, the House Sparrows flit about playing with each other. They perched on the railings and even on the gate next to me. They were so bold and inquisitive. When a feral cat crept out from the old train sheds and strolled across the concourse, the birds set off a warning call and escaped out the concourse doors to hide in the weeds.
Above in the rafters the Blue Jays were looking somber and hopeless. They bent their great blue, white and black heads downward and watched as the cat sauntered along. The jays observed how the sparrows had all escaped, then returned for more mischief on the concourse floor.
One Blue Jay decided to go down and investigate. The other two stayed in the rafters and watched.
I was thrilled to see this beautiful Blue Jay land on the concourse floor right near me. I watched it as it gave out its shrill call as if trying to ask the sparrows, “What’s wrong with this place?” The sparrows ran up to the Jay, looking at its tremendous size, maybe six times the size of a sparrow, then flew way.
Suddenly a wind came in from the harbor and blew a sign down. The sparrows dashed outside again and hid in the tall weeds. The Blue Jay watched them depart and saw that through the door, there was blue sky.
The Jay called again and looked up at the other Jays in the rafters. They looked down to see the Jay on the floor lift up and fly out the door to freedom.
The two Jays in the rafters came down, swooped over the floor and followed the other birds out the door. I heard their shrill calls breaking the silence of the park on a warm sunny afternoon. They had gotten a late start, but now they were free. Thanks to the little brown helper birds that showed them how to escape the human-made forest.