On my photo outings, I am like a hawk, ready to capture a unique and beautiful bird. Some people might not care for the more common named bird, the Gray Jay, however I was so excited to see this little fellow land just a few feet from me, camera in hand. I could have hugged him, but he would have preferred a piece of cheese, bread crumb or possibly a slice of apple out of my hand.
I remember as a very young child, my parents and other adults, discussing the Whiskey Jack. My father was a fisherman at the time, so the Whiskey Jacks would have loved hovering to snatch any bits of nourishment left behind. Black bears also were a major concern for the campers who’s livelihood centred around large sums of fish. It was important to try to not leave any signs of a catch overnight nearby, or the entire campsite would have been torn to pieces.
1. The Gray Jay is indelibly associated with Canada’s great northern forests.
2. Quick to learn that humans can be an excellent source of food, the Gray Jay often visits lumber camps, kills made by hunters, and the campsites of canoeists, looking for scraps of anything edible.
3. The bird’s fearless and venturesome behaviour has amused and irked those who work in the forest and earned it many colloquial names such as “meat-bird” and “camp-robber”.
4. Another familiar name, “whiskey-jack”, was taken from Wiskedjak, Wisagatcak, Wisekejack, or other variations of a word used in the Algonquian family of aboriginal languages of eastern Canada to designate a mischievous, transforming spirit who liked to play tricks on people.
5. The Gray Jay is thus the only Canadian bird for which a name of aboriginal derivation has been commonly used in English.
Perhaps sadly, whiskeyjack and the former English name of Canada Jay are both passing into disuse as more and more Canadians grow up with the present official English name of Gray Jay.
The Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis is only slightly smaller than a Blue Jay and, silhouetted against the sky, the two birds are surprisingly similar, although the Gray Jay is a somewhat slower and weaker flier than its southern relative. Close up, the Gray Jay can hardly be confused with any other bird. Its back and tail are a medium gray and the underparts a slightly lighter shade, but the head has a quite striking and unique pattern of black and white. The short, black bill, the large dark eyes, and the thick, fluffy plumage, help give the Gray Jay a soft, rounded appearance that most people find highly appealing. For the Gray Jay, of course, the thick plumage is what keeps it warm on long winter nights or in cold snaps when the temperature may be 40 below zero for days at a time.
Juvenile Gray Jays just out of the nest are very different from the adults, being a uniform, sooty gray colour all over their bodies. Young and old are so distinct, in fact, that they were at first thought to be different species. Juveniles begin their first moult in July, however, and by the end of August they essentially look just like the adults.