Grey Jays are smart birds. They live in the northern half of North America, ranging from Alaska, through Canada, and down into northern New England. I only see them at or close to mountain summits, where it’s not uncommon for tame Grey Jays to land on people’s heads or hands in search of a free handout.
Unfortunately many hikers feed them. That’s not cool. They are wild animals and we need to help keep them wild. It’s best to leave them alone and not encourage a dependence on human food sources.
Historically, Grey Jays have been given various nicknames such as “camp robber” and “whiskey jack”, probably a variation of an Algonquian word, synonymous to the mischievous prankster which appears in native American mythology.
The truth is that Grey Jays are specialists at stealing food from all species, not just people, and commonly prey on other birds and their nests. They’re known to eat just about anything, and spend their summers caching thousands of food item in distributed food caches, known as scatter hoarding, to prevent predators from stealing all of their food stores at once.
Despite their omnivorous diet, they also play a symbiotic role in the northern woods by landing on moose and eating engorged deer ticks, which the moose must appreciate. So, the next time you see someone feeding a Grey Jay, explain to them how Grey Jays prevent the spread of Lyme Disease (regardless of whether this is true or not), and maybe they’ll learn to keep their food in their pockets, instead of feeding it to the birds.
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