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Bird Watch: Gray Jay

By Brian M. Collins
Published: December 17, 2010
Beneath that cute, fuzzy exterior lies a serious bird brain.
Photo by Brian M. Collins
If all you know about jays is that they’re the pretty birds that scatter all your seed around the birdfeeder, you may not have the best impression of these intelligent, social and fascinating birds with life histories that could fill encyclopedic volumes.  
As problem-solvers, jays are at the top of the bird world, belonging to a famously intelligent family of songbirds, the Corvidae (which also includes ravens and crows). Jays are recognized in wild spaces for their ability to recognize good food when they see it. Often, this food is our food. While it’s not good to feed wildlife with leftovers and heavily processed foods, having a gray jay perched on your fingertips taking a peanut offering is an unforgettable experience and a great way to connect kids with the outdoors.
Known as the “camp robber,” the gray jay covers its thievery with cuteness. Big eyes and fuzzy feathers put even the most ironclad hearts at ease. Having been the happy victim of gray jay thievery for years, I have been witness to such a variety of vocalizations that I often wonder if gray jays have a more complex language than can be imagined by science.

Brian M. Collins lives in the land of the blue jay, but heads north in February to find his favorite jay, the “camp robber.”

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