National Geographic : 1933 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis) One winter day I followed for a time a bear trail which wandered here and there through the snow among the ridges flanking a forested moun tain. This was in the Adirondacks of northern New York State. Wearied at length, I brushed the snow from a log and sat down to enjoy the sandwich I had brought from camp. The forest was very still. There was no wind, and not one living creature had I seen or heard since leaving camp that morning. My only evidence that ani mal life existed in the country was that bear spoor and some deer tracks I had crossed. Then suddenly two birds appeared. Neither one was sixty feet away. They were a little less than a foot in length, were gray in color, with some white and a little black in the plumage. Quietly they looked down from the limbs upon me-or perhaps upon my fast-disappearing sand wich, which might have been of more interest to them. Now and then one changed his position to come a little nearer. They exhibited no alarm, but rather a mild curiosity, mingled with re strained eagerness. Not a sound did they utter. It was almost eerie to watch these birds in pan tomime, here in the white silence of the great for est. They remained until I departed, leaving on the log some of the bread and a little meat as a token of my appreciation of their visit. I had seen at close range my first Canada jays. In later years I was to see them in their more northern summer home. About logging camps, or wherever man tarries for a time in the wilder ness, they make their appearance. I know of no bird that is so bold. He will light on a low limb and watch the kettle boil or the meat frying in the pan. tle will drop down and seize a piece of bacon, raw or cooked. He will snatch a cracker from the box inside the tent. He will peck at the fresh meat hung up to cool. It is well to be careful of the articles one leaves lying about, for "Whiskey Jack" is the famous "camp robber" of the North. He will carry off your matches, your pencil, your cigarette, or your piece of chewing tobacco, although what he wants with such things I cannot guess. He will peck to pieces your candles or soap and carry away in chunks the fish you catch. He visits the trap line and takes the bait. He is aware of the presence of hunters and comes at the sound of the gun, knowing that when a moose or a deer is killed great feasting is in store for himself and his friends. There seems to be no end to the mischief that "Jack" can make about a camp in the wilderness. However, let us remember that he does eat insects and, now and then, a mouse. The Canada jay breeds from the limit of coni fers, from Labrador to British Columbia, and southward to northern Minnesota, and to Maine. Its nests are placed in trees and are composed of twigs, plant fibers, bark, moss and other soft materials. The bird lays from three to five brownish spotted eggs. ROCKY MOUNTAIN JAY (P. c. capi talis). This bird is very similar to P. c . cana densis. It breeds in the mountains from British Columbia to South Dakota and New Mexico. ALASKA JAY (P. c. fumifrons). In habits the wooded parts of Alaska except the southeastern coastal district. OREGON JAY (Perisoreus obscurus) As will readily be seen from the accompanying drawings by Allan Brooks, the Oregon jay and the Canada jay have certain marked resemblances in figure and color. Like all the forms of the genus Perisoreus,their bills are short, and they remind one more of overgrown chickadees than of the jays with which most people are familiar. Also, they lack some of the sleek, smart appear ance characteristic of the typical jays. The species is an inhabitant of the coastal area from southwestern British Columbia and western Washington southward to Mendocino County, California. The species obscurus is now recognized as being composed of two subspecies, the Oregon jay and the gray jay (P. o . griscus). Since their ranges join and the two species look so much alike, the student may have difficulty in determining which bird he is observing, unless he informs himself carefully as to the exact range of each. The gray jay is found in southwestern British Columbia, south-central Washington, and Oregon through the Cascade Mountains to Cali fornia. The jays of this species seen in the fir regions of the Warner Mountains and on Mt. Shasta, for example, are gray jays. Those in habiting many of the heavy redwood forests are Oregon jays. So far as general habits and ac tivities are concerned, they may be considered as one bird. Early ornithologists regarded them all as the Oregon jay. Major Bendire wrote that on the summit of the Blue Mountains in Oregon he saw these birds at an altitude of 6,500 feet. He and his companion had stopped for lunch and, "While so engaged," he said, "I heard several whistles in a large pine close by, and these were answered from other directions. Shortly after I saw one of these birds in a little fir a few feet from where I was eating my lunch. I threw him some scraps of bread and meat, and he was by no means slow in accepting the invitation to help himself. A few minutes later three others made their appearance and fed among our party with the utmost un concern and almost allowed themselves to be touched." Many observers testify to the unusual tame ness of these jays. Mr. A . W. Anthony has recorded that they are "utterly devoid of fear." As an example of this pleasing characteristic, he said: "While dressing deer in the thick timber I have been almost covered with jays flying down from the neighborhood trees. They would settle on my back, head, or shoulders, tugging and pull ing at each loose sleeve of my coat, until one would think that their sole object was to help me in all ways possible. At such times their only note is a low, plaintive cry." All campers in this country know these jays, for they constantly come about the camps look ing for food. "Camp robber" and "venison bird" are names often applied to them. Although only about the size of the robin, they are also called "meat hawk" by some people. The nests are built in evergreens. They are sufficiently substantial to stand the wear and tear of domestic occupancy, and so serve well the pur pose for which they are made. The eggs are a little more than an inch in length and are spotted.