Canadian Whiskey Jack ( Five facts you may care to know)


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.

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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.

Description
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.

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14 thoughts

  1. I like him a lot. I am pretty sure a close cousin of his ate granola from my hand years ago in Colorado when I was x-country skiing.

    • Yes, they are friendly birds and like to eat out of a person’s hand. I didn’t know this at the time when I took the photo. He’s a pretty bird, and I like his colouring.

    • I like the sound of that—Whiskey Jack, like a wise, weather-worn fisherman who knows these here waters like the back of his hand. Kind of like Quinn in the movie Jaws.

  2. What a cute little fellow. I understand why you’d want to hug him. When we got our chickens at first, I asked my husband if the chickens would eventually get used to me and let me pick them up. He just laughed at me. :o) I prefer the name whiskey jack too. Hope you’re all well x

    • Thank you Olivia. I like Whiskey Jack too. It’s original and also the name was derived from the North American natives which should be relevant.
      My daughter’s next treatment is on June 14. I spent 5 days with her. Her side effects were fairly minimal but I suppose it will increase as the drug is injected. Her mouth was the final thing that was beginning to hurt and her taste buds were decreasing in strength. Hope all is well with you. I’m busy trying to get caught up with grass cutting but more rain today.

  3. I love this post. We have blue jays here in Pittsburgh. It’s strange, because I grew up in California where there are also blue jays, but their personalities are completely different. They’re very loud and brash and kind of aggressive. Here the blue jays are a bit reclusive and mysterious. I’ve never seen a grey jay.

    • Their favourite habitant is in the north as they love the coniferous forest and prefer being in the wilds. And they also love the cold temperatures we get here. They go as far as the Arctic Circle. But some do live all the way in California. They also stay put wherever they are born. And remain faithful to their mate. How cool in that?
      We also have blue jays. They are so pretty but all Jays tend to chase the small birds away. That is one of their downfalls. thanks for reading and commenting, sparrow.

  4. Beautiful shot, Drew! Thank you for sharing all the info too. I love learning more about wildlife!

  5. Such a smart post. Thanks for this information. I like naming the bird Canada Jay, although Gray Jay is more practical in that it distinguished the bird from Blue Jay. This is a terrific photo, Drew. 🙂 You captured the darkness of his eyes so beautifully.

    • Thank you Carol for your very kind comments. If you were from Manitoba, you would probably call him a Whiskey Jack. Simply because of the name we grew up with, however, I like Canada Jay too.

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