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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. 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. If a bear came up to you begging for a handout, would you feed it?

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. Those are the same deer ticks that spread Lyme Disease.

One comment

  1. 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