Gray Jay

Gray Jay | Perisoreus canadensis
Gray Jay | Perisoreus canadensis

One of the more common and frequently seen birds in the sub-alpine is the whiskey jack or gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis). In Paradise Meadows these social birds gather at places where hikers stop for lunch and commence aggressively begging for food. Unfortunately, many people give in to the begging either to “help” the bird out (since it is so desperate for food) or to get the “perfect picture” of a wilderness experience, bird-in-hand.

I’m of two minds about this.

On the one hand (so to speak) is the fact that people who normally would not notice much about the landscape they are walking through or the plants and animals that live in it are “experiencing” nature in the raw. There is a certain appeal to having a wild bird eating out of your hand. Perhaps one of these young bird feeders will go on to a career as an ornithologist.

However, on the other hand, many of the people who are feeding the jays are feeding them things like bread and Cheesies. I have only one thing to say to these folks – “Think about it. Do you think that bread is a natural food for these birds?” The interesting thing is that the bread feeders are pretty determined that they are doing the birds a favour and are hard to convince otherwise: “Look, the bird likes the bread.” “Other people are doing it.” “Don’t spoil my son/daughter’s fun.” “You can’t tell me what to do.”

Realistically, I’ve found from personal experience that it is almost impossible to change the ways of the “gray jay feeder.” Suggesting that the feeder pick some wild blueberries or other wild food as an alternative food seems to be the least confrontational approach and may end up having the effect of changing behaviour in the long term. At least it’s better for the bird.

Note that the gray jay in the photo above was not coerced or bribed with any type of food to pose for his photograph.

3 comments

  1. On a recent hike, I passed a group of hikers temping the jays with bits of their energy bars. One of the girls commented, “good thing they don’t have a sign prohibiting this”.

  2. I had forgotten about the classic “no signage” excuse – thanks Tim! In this day and age of BC Parks cutbacks there seems to be little or no education or enforcement since staff are spread so thin. Self-regulation is suggested as a solution but in my opinion doesn’t work so well – I can think of countless examples of people who have self-created exceptions to the rules that apply only to themselves.

  3. The irony was that there *was* a message to this effect on the Info board at the trailhead, though it wasn’t specific about prohibiting the feeding birds (and few people take the time to read past the first few rules which are glossed over as common sense). Self-regulation works well for those who are in the know, as you’ve mentioned, but for the once-a-year hikers, feeding the birds, or dropping candy wrappers, are just bad habits they bring in from the city.

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