Thursday, December 16, 2010


When the first snow flake falls on the north shore of Lake Superior, "the question" is inevitably asked me, "Do you stay here for the winter?" More often than not, the hope of an affirmative yes can be seen in the eyes of the questioner.... I always have the feeling my yes answer, validates their sanity.

First of all, there are many reasons Mary and I choose to winter on Cedar Ridge. A few I have alluded to in past posts, but the main reason is we enjoy all the wildlife seasons here on the north shore. Each season spotlights varieties of different birds and animals and we would greatly miss these events.

One of these events is the winter return of the Gray Jay, aka Canada Jay, Whiskey Jack, Camp Robber or Chickadee on Steroids. The winters of 2008 and 2009 were void of this gregarious bird of the north and we greatly missed his presence. This fall on November 5th our "reason not to go south" flew in to our yard. A beautiful immature Gray Jay landed in our front yard cedar tree. I immediately cut some small pieces of beef summer sausage our Gray Fox enjoys and tossed it on our patio. Without hesitation, the gray one dove in and helped himself. I added a few cubes of bread and he flew back and forth from the forest gathering up his new found booty.

Usually when you begin feeding a Gray Jay, they hang around for the duration, that being the winter and then departing in the spring to their breeding areas. This guy stayed for the remainder of the day and then disappeared for the next day or so. I thought my theory of "feed and stay" did not apply to this bird... but about the time I thought he had continued on his way, he returned. Now I was prepared with all the jay's favorites: white wieners (the cheapest and worst looking), hamburger morsels and white bread cubes. The gray one will pretty much eat any meat scrap you throw out the door. I do know that they have an affinity for baked beans... and I have friends that have watched them steal hot dogs off a grill and chips off a picnic table. Thus the appropriate handle, "Camp Robber."

The Gray Jay is arguably the most social of the birds of the northland. They thrive on contact with humans; obviously because we return their affection and bravery with the food they love. This new arrival took food out of my hand on the second day he was here. He comes every morning at sunrise and returns intermittently during the day. Every afternoon at sunset, which is now around 4:15 pm, he flies in to "pork down" for the long, cold night.

We received a surprise soon after his arrival, when another Gray Jay accompanied him into the yard. At first he was not too enamored with the new arrival, but soon they were both flying in together. The new guy would not land in my hand to grab his scraps, he would perch in a cedar or on my suet post and watch his friend land in my hand. He always waits for the original jay to eat first, then he flutters in and waits for me to toss his scraps on the ground. I am wondering if he will someday eat out of my hand before he leaves in the spring.

Mary and I love to watch them flutter from long distances into the yard. They have the longest and most beautiful glide to my outstretched hand. Yesterday I placed a slice of hot dog, piece of hamburger and bread cube in my hand. I was curious to see which one he would choose. He landed in my hand, perused the buffet and proceeded to scarf up the hamburger, hot dog and bread cube in that order... leaving none behind.

The Gray Jay's range is extensive throughout Alaska and Canada; in the U.S.A. he flies the northern border states from Minnesota, east to Maine... the northwestern states of Washington, Oregon and a finger extends throughout the Rocky Mountain range south into New Mexico.

Where ever he is seen, he provides endless delight and entertainment for the birder, hiker and camper... as the book "Birds of America" states: "He is about the cheekiest thing that wears feathers."