Blue Jay Choosing Flight Over Fight

This article captures a ‘slice of life’ moment and shows a Blue Jay choosing flight over fight.

A couple of days ago I was out at Hendrie Valley getting in some practice time with my Olympus OM-D E-M1X by shooting some Pro Capture runs. Some other photographers had left some bird seed on one of the benches. It was attracting some birds as well as a few squirrels.

I noticed that a Blue Jay and a squirrel were at opposite ends of the same bench. The Blue Jay was pecking at some seeds as the squirrel approached. Anticipating something interesting was about to happen I focused on the Blue Jay and waited for the action to ensue. It didn’t take long. The Blue Jay got in a threatening body posture and went directly at the squirrel. As the squirrel advanced undeterred, the Blue Jay quickly changed its mind and took flight.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

In our first frame we can see the Blue Jay exhibiting a classic bird aggression posture with its body down, neck extended and beak open. You’ll notice that it is stepping forward to challenge the squirrel that is approaching out of frame.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay continues to advance aggressively towards the squirrel.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay has just had its “Oh Oh!” moment and has realized that the squirrel has not been intimidated by its show of aggression. The Blue Jay stops dead in its tracks.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The bird’s flight over fight decision has been made. The Blue Jay begins to quickly extend its wings in preparation for take off.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay begins its first short downward wing beat.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay is crouching so it can launch itself into the air.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

Body partially erect, the Blue Jay has finished its first quick wing beat and is lifting its wings for the next. The bird is pushing upward with its legs and body.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

It quickly begins its second, short downward wing beat. The Blue Jay’s head is still pointed forward watching the advancing squirrel.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

As the wing’s downstroke continues the Blue Jay begins to lift itself airborne. You’ll notice that its feet have left the surface of the bench. The Blue Jay begins to turn its head away from the squirrel.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

Now completely focused on escaping, the Blue Jay turns its head firmly in the direction of its escape route.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay’s wings are finishing its powerful downstroke, thrusting its body at a 90-degree angle to the advancing squirrel.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay’s flight over fight decision takes on a sense of urgency.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

Thrusting its wings sharply back, the Blue Jay fully extends them in preparation for its third wing downstroke.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

The Blue Jay starts to gain speed as its flight over fight response takes it further away from the bench.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture Mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

Its third wing downstroke almost complete, the Blue Jay is quickly on its way to safety.

The 15 Pro Capture mode photographs you just viewed were all captured in a total of 1/4 of a second.  They demonstrate how quickly birds make their flight or fight decisions. As photographers it is important for us to be observant and to anticipate potential action. I was at Hendrie Valley for about 2 hours that day. The 1/4 second that it took to capture these 15 Pro Capture images was the highlight of my visit!

Without using my E-M1X’s Pro Capture mode, it would have been impossible for me to capture this flight over fight ‘slice of life’ moment.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All images are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping.

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4 thoughts on “Blue Jay Choosing Flight Over Fight”

  1. Terrific shots as usual Tom. And the narration adds so much to the interest in the photos. While we have plenty of small wild birds around where I live, I have never found a way to shoot them with any degree of skill. Limbs, trees, moss, all kinds of things are always in the way and of course, these little birds dont sit there asking to be photographed. So I am all the more appreciative of your work.

    Joel

    1. Hi Joel,

      Thanks for the comment and sharing your experience trying to photograph small birds… they can be a challenge!

      I have been doing a bit of experimentation using Pro Capture with small birds that are perched behind limbs, in bushes etc. As you know these subjects are very difficult to photograph when they take flight. With my E-M1X I typically use the smallest single AF point available. When this is positioned on a small bird… pretty much anywhere on its head or body… it creates an opportunity to capture images of the small bird taking flight from inside a bush or from behind some branches.

      The key of course is to get an image or two when its head is unobstructed… and the small bird is still in focus. Since the first frame of a Pro Capture H run locks focus and exposure for the following images, the small bird has to take flight at a 90-degree angle to the focal plane of my camera to maintain focus. Lots of things have to come together in order to capture a useable image under this scenario, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Pro Capture can be a very effective tool for these types of photographic opportunities. I hope to have an article on this subject in the near future.

      Tom

  2. Tom,

    Marvelous sequence especially the unfurling of the wings on the main image. The blue jay certainly made the right decision as it’s not fit to mess with a squirrel; also, it sort of posed for you and your Olympus and performed its spectacular mid-air about-face acrobatics 😀 The Oly capabilities make me really appreciate the gravity-defying movements birds do since in real-time, the action is too quick to be noticed and appreciated more deeply.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Thanks for your comment Oggie… I’m glad you enjoyed the images! This action sdequence happened so quickly that all I saw in my viewfinder was a blur of wing movements when I pressed my shutter release. I thought I had captured something quite special… but I didn’t know for sure until I looked at the Pro Capture run afterwards.

      Tom

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