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Don’t Feed the Grey Jays!

Grey Jay on Mt Pierce in New Hampshire

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.

Grey Jay in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

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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  1. They're like the shelter-mice of the sky. Sometimes I feel like it's a losing battle to keep people from feeding either (shelter mice, grey jays, etc), but it can't hurt to try. After all, people feeding bears is the main reason they're a problem, too.

  2. That's my attitude. If a big smelly hiker who looks like a man (or woman) of the mountains explains to a parent/child why it's important not to feed them, then maybe it will have leave a lasting impact.

  3. Personally I'd rather educate on the above treeline "rockwalk" than this. Even then I've had very limited success in people not walking on alpine grass.

    You are right of course but I'd be dishonest if I said I wouldn't feed them again.

  4. Sounds like they've been stealing food (and probably being fed by humans) since the Algonquins were around and have managed to stay wild.

    That said, my mother told me when I was little that birds have lice (so I would stop trying to bring bird's nests inside after they'd been abandoned) and I still believe it so I'd probably freak out if one landed on my head, and or my hand.

  5. In California we too have issues with campers feeding Jays (in our case blue Stellars Jay's since we do not have Gray Jays). In redwood national park it's a particular issue since they share habitat with the endangered Marbeled Murlette which nests exclusively in Old Growth Redwoods.

    Jay's numbers are on the rise and their feeding patterns are being changed by the food they've discovered in campsites and picnic areas allowing them to discover more of the nests of the Murlettes.

  6. Interesting. Maybe the trick is a smear campaign. The Jays are omnivores and attack other birds nests. If we can demonize them (like bears or racoons), maybe people will shoo them off.

  7. Great pics! I've encountered Grey Jays on Crawford Path and on the way up to Jefferson. Won't lie, we fed them. I think it's fun to have them land on you! Seriously, I know I shouldn't do it though and will try to resist when we see them again. When I was hiking Jefferson and saw them for the first time, there was a scout troop feeding them like crazy.

  8. Pick one. If feeding them stops them from eating ticks it also must stop them from eating eggs and nestlings. I'd want a more scientific basis to argue a point like this.

    And millions of people, like me, keep bird feeders in their yards (unfortunately, to the delight of my neighbors cat) and the birds don't seem to lose their ability to feed themselves. Anyway they're just birds, let people get some enjoyment from them. "That's not cool" seems to be a hollow basis for an opinion.

  9. I just saw a bunch atop Mt Isolation and we had a great time with them landing on our hands and looking for food. I fed them and it was fun. I disagree with what you say here but to each their own. Made for one of the more memorable and amazing lunchtimes on a peak and I don't see the harm that much.

  10. Had my first encounter with them this weekend on an AMC trip to Isolation. No one fed them per the leaders request but he (the Jay) still found crumbs from our breakfast. Before I left I held out my hand and pretended I had food. He perched on it and looked disappointingly at my empty palm. Pretty funny look on its face. You don’t need to feed them to interact or touch them, you just have to be smarter. :p

  11. I call them ghost birds. Needless to say I’ve had.them scare the crap out of me. But I like them. Good companions with interesting spirits

  12. Why is it so bad to feed them like I wanna feed them and train them

  13. You should feed them. I`m sure it gives them a break from struggling so much to survive.

  14. Where I come from, we don’t let our friends go hungry! When I worked at Bryce Canyon national park, I made friends with a Golden Mantle ground squirrel. Before we closed the lodge up for the winter, he was climbing up onto my lap and retrieving nuts from my coat pocket. I only hope all the nuts I gave him allowed him to make through the harsh winter on that mountain where the snow often gets over 12 feet deep. I would never feed a bear, or a mountain lion, or a wolf, because I just don’t like them, PERIOD! or any animal that harms humans.

    • Shame on you for representing the National Park Service in this fashion. Golden Mantle ground squirrels definitely do not need your handouts to survive.

  15. Wow, way to conflate species. Feeding bears == bad so feeding blue jays == bad.

    Think of it this way. Kids who are brought up hiking and camping have more appreciation for the outdoors and are more likely to protect it. A whiskeyjack eating in your hand is hardly a massive ecological disruption and is a delight to people doing it.

    There are plenty of animals who do just fine with limited human interaction, though some of them, like rats are a nuisance. Feeding mice is another matter – they carry diseases – and people feeding city pigeons, aka flying rats, annoy me.

    The jays don’t seem to be at risk or harmful. And, far as I know, in SW BC they are not displacing any particular species. So, while you are welcome to your opinion, forgive me if I disregard it. After all, I don’t run around lecturing pigeon feeders.

    Have a nice day.

  16. Thank you for this post! Wish more people would understand the concept of ‘minimize your impact’ when outdoor but from the comments I guess it’s a lost battle….

    • Maybe choose your battles more wisely.

      People love birds and animals. All the LNT education in the world will never change the joy you get from interacting with them. Preaching about issues like this that can’t be won basically makes it harder to teach people about other things. I tell people not to give them candy and processed food but imo telling them not to do it is futile.

      And if you can’t get people to stay off the alpine grass then no, you will never get anywhere with the birds!

  17. I’m a National Park Ranger at one of our beautiful national parks in the Pacific Northwest. One of the most frustrating things I deal with is the selfishness of people, more concerned about their experience rather than the bigger picture. I work in a designated wilderness area and one part of my job is to help maintain the integrity of the wilderness through education. I strongly believe that feeding Gray Jays has a negative consequence to the ecosystem. Gray Jays belong to the corvid family and are highly aggressive birds that prey on more timid smaller birds such as warblers. When we feed Gray Jays we encourage them to congregate in those areas and scare away those more timid birds. Essentially altering the biodiversity of that ecosystem.

    There is a lot of joy to be had in hiking and exploring without feeding the wildlife. Please help keep wildlife wild and no not feed the gray jays, especially in designated wilderness areas. It’s sad that we have to designate areas as wilderness but with the reaches of man, there isn’t much left (especially in the lower 48) that is truly wild. Once our wilderness is gone… it’s gone. Let’s all help protect what we have left. Thank you.

    For information on the Wilderness Act of 1964 check out


    For more information on Leave No Trace check out


  18. We live in the UP of Michigan we have a pair of gray jays that visit frequently we enjoy them. They are not as big of thief’s as blue jays are they are fun to watch we leave our deer carcuses out pick them clean less to dicard when there done chickades love meat too enjoy nature

  19. Working in N Alberta where interactions with people occur if I was one of those horrible bird friendly people what can I feed them that’s best for them…? A suet or what seeds.?..

  20. There really is no consensus even among many conservationists and experts that feeding Grey Jays is bad or has a negative impact.. Their situation and evolvement is truly unique as compared to other animals and even other birds..

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