If you live in or near the boreal forest that stretches across north eastern United States, through all provinces and territories of Canada, to Alaska and Rocky Mountains, or subalpine zone south to New Mexico and Arizona, then there is a very good chance that you have met this "Woodsman’s Friend".
These gregarious, adventurous and handsome birds will seek you out, especially in the shoulder seasons. And, with no coaxing necessary will share lunch with you. Your lunch actually!
My personal experience has been exactly that. You don't walk away from your picnic food even for a minute, because if you do, you will need to find something else to eat.
The Gray Jay travels in a group so you will seldom be visited by just one. This makes their clean-up job of your meal, swift!
"that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"
(William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet)
How many birds do you know have been given so many names by such a variety of peoples?
During the lumbering days of North America in "Camp-robber" territory lumberjacks and throughout history knew this grey bird by other names too:
Whisky Jack (Cdn spelling)
Whiskey Jack (US spelling)
Gorbeys - The Scottish origin might come from the word “Gorb”, which has a double meaning: ‘glutton’ and ‘unfledged bird’.
Canada Jay -by english speaking people for 200 years
French is Mésangeai du Canada.
This friendly Jay is quieter than some other Jays. Using hoots and chatters to communicate with other vocalizations.
They hang out in small groups, mated pairs always together, and do a lot of swooping while in flight.
Males and females mate for life spending their days together, while defending their territory, foraging and raising a family.
They do not migrate, but stay with their stored food supply from the previous summer's caching activity. And because of this, they begin nesting in February while winter is in full force.
Their nest which is built by both the male and the female is a bulky flat cup of twigs, lichens, strips of bark, and caterpillar webs, lined with softer materials including animal hair and feathers.
The female is the only one to sit on the eggs. Two to five eggs, are a pale gray to greenish, dotted with brown, olive, or reddish.
These Jays practice "allofeeding"; which is one adult bird feeding another of the same species. Often observed during courtship or when an adult is sitting on eggs and depending on their mate to feed them. The Gray Jay female will call for her mate from the nest when she is hungry.
Both parents will feed the young birds while they are growing in the nest for about 23 days.
The young birds will live in the same territory with the parents until one sibling, usually a male, drives the others away. These young birds will find their own territory to live, or join an adult pair who were not successful in having their own young.
The lumberjacks often fed them any leftovers they may have had because they enjoyed the company of these hardy birds.
They have a very varied, omnivorous diet of:
Gray Jays cache food all summer and into fall to supply a steady meal plan all winter long.
This is how they do it:
The food is mulled about in their mouth until it forms a mass covered with saliva. This sticky mass is then hidden under bark or lichen.
They will cache thousands of items all summer for eating in winter, remembering where most of them were hidden. Storage may also be assisted by the antibacterial properties of the bark and foliage of boreal tree species.
Caching their food may be the number one reason they have a much lesser death rate than almost all other songbirds.
To back this statement up I am including a direct quote.
The following excerpt is from "The Science Behind Algonquins Animals".
Gray Jay Research in Algonquin Park
But first just a little background about Algonguin Park for those who are not familiar with this historic Canadian environmental park.
Algonquin Park was the result of the effort of American Naturalist John Muir and his followers to create a park to promote environmentalism in Ontario in 1893.
This is the same John Muir who used the same environmental arguments to help create the development of the National Park System in the United States of America, such as Yosemite Park.
John Muir's enduring love for wildlife and his tireless efforts to preserve our wilderness for the enjoyment of future generations in North America, led to these wonderful wilderness refuges.
Interesting isn't it.
Gives thought, that the popularity of backyard bird feeding during the winter months may be partly responsible for the better survival rate of those songbirds who partake of bird feeders, compared to those who do not. Migration is a very difficult task indeed!
Many stories have evolved over the years about this handsome, interesting, people loving bird. Some stories are based on folklore, some are fun, some are curious and some stories you may wish you never heard!
This is what took place.
From The National Bird Project's website:
"There are more than 450 species of birds across Canada, but until now, not one of them has been designated as our national bird. In 2015, the team at Canadian Geographic decided it was time to change that, and founded the National Bird Project with the aim of declaring an official bird for Canada by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation."
After two years and three phases of the project were undertaken.
1. Canadians were asked to vote with convincing reasons for their choice, almost 50,000 citizens responded, leaving five top choices.
2. A panel of experts was convened to debate in their opinion which bird should be chosen for Canada's National Bird.
3. Canadian Geographic made the announcement on November 16, 2016 recommending that the Gray Jay be officially named the National Bird by the Canadian Government for Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Donald MacKay "Lumberjacks" Natural Heritage Books" 1998
Wikipedia.org - with caution.