Opinion Column

BIRDWATCH: Learning more about Canada's official bird, the Grey Jay

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

The Grey Jay has been named Canada's official bird.

The Grey Jay has been named Canada's official bird.


This year is Canada’s 150th birthday, and it is only appropriate that after all these years, Canada would adopt an official bird. For many, the choosing of the Grey Jay was a surprise, but in retrospect, it is an ideal choice. This bird is mainly located in Canada, is quite tame and like most Canadians, is hardy enough to survive our cold winters. Therefore, I thought it only appropriate for us to learn more about our national bird.

We are very fortunate to have Grey Jays in our area in various locations, including one of my favourite birding spots, Algonquin Park. Whenever I travel into Algonquin Park in the winter and early spring, I find Grey Jays at the entrance of the Spruce Bog Trail waiting for people to give them food. Along Achray Road, I find them near the Achray campsite as well as a little further south towards Lake Traverse. However, these birds are not confined only to Algonquin Park. They have been spotted in the Golden Lake and Eganville areas, and north to Chalk River and Deep River area. In fact, a former neighbour used to have them at her place on the B-Line Road, and several years ago, I was thrilled to have one visit my feeder in the winter for a few moments.

The Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) has been known by many people as the Whiskey Jack or the Canada Jay. This bird’s preferable habitat is conifer and mixed conifer forests. This Jay is a large, fluffy, grey bird that is larger than a Robin. It has a black patch or partial black cap across the back of its head and a distinctive white forehead.

The Grey Jay is a very tame, bold, and curious bird. It is so tame that it is known to steal food from campers at their campsites or take bread from one’s hand. This bird likes to store its food until it is ready to eat it. It eats mice, eggs and the young of other birds. It also feeds on insects, seeds, nuts and berries. The Grey Jay builds it nests on a horizontal branch or in the crux of a tree, between four and 30 feet above the ground. The nest is made of branches lined with moss, grass, bark, fathers and fur, all fastened together with spider webs and insect cocoons. The female Grey Jay incubates the eggs for 16 to 18 days. The young, when hatched, remain in the nest for another 15 to 21 days and are fed by both sexes.

Grey Jays can be found in Boreal forests all across Canada and in some parts of the United States. It is certainly a fun bird to observe and I do envy anyone who gets them at their feeders or yard. It is definitely a great choice for our national bird.

Elsewhere on the local scene, the bird activity has been quite slow, with some exception at the feeders. At my feeder, I am still getting around 100 American Goldfinches and recently to my surprise, one Common Redpoll among them. I still get the Nuthatches, Chickadees, Brown Creepers and both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. I miss getting the Purple Finch and other northern migrants like the Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll and Pine Grosbeaks. However, I do know that there are Evening Grosbeaks in various spots in the county.

In the fields, there are still some flocks of Snow Buntings, the odd Snowy Owl and Red-tailed Hawk, and even an early American Kestrel, but not much else. I was anticipating the arrival of a few Lapland Longspurs and early Horned Larks, but with all the snow we have, I doubt they will arrive until later in March.

For those in wooded areas, you may be fortunate to hear some Barred Owl calls as February and March are the mating season for these birds. The bird activity remains very slow and this is corresponding with a low number of bird reports. The high number of Crows within our area is still generating a lot of interest and calls on the subject.

Recently, I spoke with Ted Kajdas of Nova Scotia who was visiting his daughter in Petawawa. He reported that Crossbills, a late Robin and Evening Grosbeaks were in his daughter’s area. He also related that northern migrants are very scarce in Nova Scotia as well as here.

Finally, on Feb. 13, Frank Ahearn of Cormac area informed me that he too had a Robin in his area. Could these Robins be over-wintering birds or early arrivals? Please call me with your sightings and feeder reports at 613-735-4430, or email at hooles@bell.net. For more information on upcoming nature events and other links to nature, just Google the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists or like us on Facebook.

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