Thursday, July 2, 2009

Camp Robber of the West... Gray Jay

Gray JayGray Jay at the picnic table, Abbott Creek, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 28 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Here is another photo obtained while scouting for the Woodpecker Wonderland bird festival at Camp Sherman, Oregon, a few weeks back.

These Northern forest and Western mountain birds are often quiet and hard to locate in the woods, giving soft whistles. Hard to locate, that is, until you visit one of the campgrounds they frequent. Begin your picnic and they sail up quietly and boldly snatch away your food! Camp robbers, indeed!

Though quite fluffy, these are actually one of the smaller jays in the world. Browner Pacific birds in the Cascades and Coast Ranges of the Pacific NW have more extensive black crowns and darker gray backs than the paler birds of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, these Pacific birds were once considered a separate species, the Oregon Jay. There are more questions than answers concerning these Pacific birds.

For instance, Gray Jays in the North cache food. That is, they save up excess food, coat it with sticky saliva, and then hide pellets of food to eat later in the winter. Do jays in the Coast Range cache food? Snow does not remain on the ground through winter in the rainy Coast Range as it does where the other studies were done. It would seem that stored food would soon go bad in the Coast Range.

Again, Gray Jays in the North may nest in March. Do jays in the Oregon and Washington Coast Range nest that early? It doesn't seem so, but the number of nests reported from this area is low.

Another thing. While Gray Jays can be predicted in the mountains and far north by the presence of spruce and true fir, they are generally absent in Sitka spruce along the immediate coast and instead are found widely in Douglas fir and western hemlock of the Coast Range, with forest tree structures where they wouldn't appear in other areas (clear cuts, alders, etc.). Why? There are mysteries aplenty to be discovered by a patient observer willing to spend some time in the Pacific Northwest woods.

I found this article concerning Steller's Jays stealing the cache of Gray Jays to be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. We love the Gray Jays here. They are such characters. Ever since my husband got a picture of one of the guys on a fishing trip laying on the bench of a picnic table and a Jay landing on his stomach I've hoped they would get more friendly. They haven't come up an sat on my lap (LOL) but they do some very cute antics that I did get some pictures of. It's from a post I did on them back in February. I'm not the greatest photographer but they turned out ok.