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Naked as a Jaybird

Posted by Art on July 24, 2004

In Reply to: Naked as a Jaybird posted by Bob on July 24, 2004

: : : : : In Australia we have a native bird called the Kurrawong. He's a large, handsome bird who can be black or grey with some white on his tail, and I think also elsewhere, and a powerful beak, and an impressive song. But he's also trouble. He raids the nests of other birds, uses them and destroys them. Because of that, we try to discourage them (although I don't try very hard really).

: : : : : As a kid growing up in rural Victoria, we always called them Jaybirds. In fact, I never knew their real names until I moved to the city. At our house in the Blue Mountains we have hundreds of stunning native birds come calling - among them the Kurrawongs. When I first called them Jaybirds, no local New South Welshmen knew what I was talking about.

: : : : : Today, while reading a murder mystery set in Minnesota, they referred to the victims as being found 'naked as jaybirds'. So I concluded that a Jaybird might be an American bird. Therefore, I looked up Jaybirds in America. All I could find was reference to Blue Jay Birds. They look absolutely NOTHING like our Kurrawongs, but their antisocial nest raiding behaviour is exactly the same. Which makes me suspect may be the reason we called our Kurrawongs - Jaybirds in Victoria.

: : : : : So - there are two questions here:

: : : : : 1. Does anyone know why we Victorians call Kurrawongs - Jaybirds, and is it, as I suspect, because of their antisocial behaviour?

: : : : : 2. How did the saying 'naked as a jaybird' come about? I mean, why a jaybird, what's so naked about a jaybird as opposed to any other animal?

: : : : From a previous reply of mine in the archives:

: : : : It seems to me that someone said baby jaybirds are especially featherless. Anyway, the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. II, H-O" by J.E. Lighter (Random House, New York, 1997) says: "naked as a jaybird, stark naked." It lists as a couple of citations: 1893 James "Mavrick" 27: He will have the humbug qualifications of cow-boy stripped from his poor worthless carcass so quickly that he would feel like a jay bird with his tail feathers gone. 1922 in DARE: I gwi' strip nakit ez a jaybu'd befo' 'e fedduh' grow!

: : :
: : : "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, but it's ok to kill a jay"

: :
: : Is it really a sin to kill a mocking bird, or was it made up for the book? Just curious.
: The only sin is regret.

When I was kid growing up in the rural Midwestern US we had a blue and white bird called a "jay" or "jaybird". The young birds tended to get rambunctious and push one another from the nest before they had any feathers worthy of note. An uncle who imparted fold wisdom to me said this was the origin of the expression "Naked as a jaybird". His only resource would have been some previous generations folk wisdom.