That blue jay yawping “jaaay’’ as it flies by — is it the same one that jawed at you a few weeks ago?
Maybe not. It may be down from Quebec, while the azure flash you saw in July may be heading for the Carolinas.
Ditto on a flock of birds we think of as constants in our yards and neighborhoods, including robins and bluebirds and black-capped chickadees.
For, while we may be standing still, we live in a world of constant motion. We may hurry, binoculars in hand, to catch the spring warblers returning, or watch hawks leave the scene in one and twos and tens and hundreds in the fall.
But within these grand migrations — from the Canadian tundra to the West Indies and down to Argentina — there are shifts of birds moving shorter distances as the seasons change.
But because they can be puddle jumps rather than heroic flights, they may be a little harder to get a fix on.
“We don’t understand them 100 percent,” said Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society.
Take blue jays. Comins said they are year-round residents. Some nest and raise young and never leave the Connecticut.
But if you go to a hawk watch at a place like Lighthouse Point in New Haven, you see big flocks of jays on the move.
“The most northern birds go south,” Comins said.
Some New Hampshire jays end up here, some keep going. Some of the jays that summer here join the caravan for warmer spots.
Black-capped chickadees migrate as well, Comins said, depending on the availability of food. That’s why some years, winter feeders hop with chickadees, while in others, there are only two or three.
Occasionally, a boreal chickadee — brown-capped, and brown-breasted — makes its way from Canada to southern New England. But, Comins said, the Carolina chickadee — an almost identical cousin of the blacked-capped — stays south, drawing a line near Trenton, New Jersey.
The American robin — our state bird — does the same thing as the blue jay. It’s not exactly a harbinger of spring anymore because some stay year-round, shifting their diet from insects to berries and seeds. Others flock and head south. Some more northerly robins may winter here, then leave come March.
Bethany Sheffer, naturalist and volunteer coordinator at the Sharon Audubon Center, said there can be movement even at the local level.
“Robins can leave your yard, and move to a forest a few miles away to get more shelter in winter,” she said.
Those same robins can then emerge from the woods in March, pulling worms from the newly thawed ground.
“I love to see that,” Sheffer said.
Sparrows are very migratory, even if, catching them out of the corner of our eye, we think, little brown jobbie. Slate-colored juncos are our snowbirds — while some nest in the state, most summer in Canada, then gather at our feeders when the cold sets in.
And there are some birds that live year-round in Connecticut, but shift their locations by season. Hairy woodpeckers don’t show up along the coast in summer, Comins said, but set up winter quarters there.
There are also sedentary birds — birds that live in one place year-round. Comins said cardinals, mockingbirds and red-bellied woodpeckers are good examples of that.
Margaret Robbins, owner of the Wild Bird Unlimited store in Brookfield, said she’s had a male red-bellied woodpecker come to her backyard feeder and squawk out its call. Then his mate and their newly fledged chicks would come and feed. When they were done, Robbins said, the male would dig in.
And there are irruptive birds — purple finches, red-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins — that can show up in the state in good numbers if the seed crops fail in Canada.
Comins said purple finches — all-raspberry colored versions of the house finch — are moving through the state now.
“I haven’t seen any, but it could be happening,” Robbins said.
And the grand fall migration has been a good one this year. Ken Elkins, education director of Audubon Connecticut’s Bent of the River nature center in Southbury, said that in September, migrating warblers and songbirds stacked up at the center’s feeders.
“There were feeding flocks all migrating together,” Elkins said.
And sometimes, nature center education directors get lucky. After telling people to be aware that it’s hawk migration season, Elkins said he looked up.
“There were a small number of broad-winged hawks flying over,” he said.