Blue jays aren’t always the friendliest birds. You might consider them aggressive — at least when it comes to who gets a chance at the bird feeder — or even bold. You would probably also consider them to be quite noisy. And while these are perfect descriptions of blue jays, it does not describe Gracie the blue jay.
In 2015 Dina Theissen spotted a small baby bird under an oak tree near the front door of her home in Palm Beach, Florida. She believed that the bird had either fallen from its nest or was abandoned, so she called a wildlife rescue agency and they advised her to leave the bird and hopefully its mother would come back for it.
The mother of the baby bird didn’t come back, so Theissen decided to care for it herself.
After a few days and still no sign of the bird’s mother, Theissen brought the bird inside her enclosed patio. Her family would become the bird’s foster family.
Theissen’s 6-year-old daughter fixed the bird, which she named Gracie, a nest made from a shoebox, and the family nursed the bird until its adult feathers started to grow in.
“An unbreakable bond was developed on that patio, from the endless hours Gracie and I spent together,” Theissen told The Dodo.
The family kept Gracie on their patio for five weeks before they released the bird.
Theissen, who became a foster mom to Gracie, said it was remarkable to watch the blue jay grow up and learn how to fend for itself. Although it did receive some help, she commented to The Dodo that the two would work as a team whenever Gracie spotted an insect.
Eventually it came time for Gracie to go back into the wild, so after caring for the bird for four weeks the Theissens attempted to release Gracie, but he flew right back. They tried again and after five and a half weeks of love from the Theissens, Gracie finally flew the coop.
“It wasn’t easy for us, but that was our ultimate goal and we knew it was for the best,” Theissen said to The Dodo.
Gracie flew the coop but didn’t quite want to leave completely.
The family was sad to see Gracie leave, but their sadness didn’t last long because the next day Gracie showed up at their house. And he showed up the day after and the day after that and nearly every day for the next two and a half years.
Typically the bird would only visit for a few minutes, and in 2016 when Theissen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer those few minutes meant everything.
“Gracie would fly over, come in through the little hole in our porch screen and sit next to me on the couch,” she told PEOPLE. “I was very weak and tired, and he would be chirping away, acting like he was having a conversation with me. It’s like he knew that something was wrong — he was showing empathy.”
Every day Gracie came back to visit his first family, helping Theissen through a tough time.
Theissen, who is now in remission, credits Gracie with helping her and her family emotionally through the dark days of surgery and chemotherapy.
“He has helped us in ways that one can only feel … even if not fully explained,” she said.