The Gray Jay of the Pacific Northwest
The Gray jay (whisky Jacks) is medium sized, gray songbirds with lighter gray bellies. They have a long tail and a short, black bill. The tips of the dark gray tail feathers are white. The head is grayish white with a gray crown and white forehead. The eyes are dark. The short legs and feet are gray.
Juveniles are entirely gray black with a white mustache mark. The pale bill of the young eventually turns dark like the adult. The coloration of the juveniles helps them to blend in with the forests.
The Gray jay is found primarily in mature, humid, sub alpine, spruce forests. They do not generally breed below 750 meters, and are most often found from 1000 meters and above to the tree line. Vancouver Island has a very large population of them.
Grey jays are omnivorous, meaning that they eat plants and animals. They feed on fungi, small rodents, eggs, fruit, berries, insects and various vegetable substances. They are attracted to campsites where they steal as much food as possible. They are known by many people as camp robbers. As a young man I logged all over the Island and the gray jay (also called the whisky jack) was a visitor everyday at lunch and would sit on your hat waiting for you to offer him lunch.
Gray jays are gregarious and are often found in family groups. They can be very bold and will beg from campers, follow hikers, and go inside cabins to steal food. These jays forage from perches and fly from tree to tree, scanning for food.
They cache food during the summer and fall, using sticky saliva to paste it in bark crevices and other hidden spots above the height of the eventual snow pack. The Gray jays eat this stored food during the winter when other food sources are scarce. It may be this food storage behavior that allows the Gray jay to survive, on the mountain tops of Vancouver Island, throughout the winter.