Hand Feeding the Wild Grey Jays: A Moment of Connection

posted in: Natural Wonders | 0

Simple moments in nature refresh body, mind and spirit, and here on the The Rock you never have to go far to find them. In fact, the Grey Jays might just bring the experience to you!

Gray Jay
A Grey Jay taking full advantage of the free meal

Modern life is a pretty steady go, and opportunities to connect with the natural world can be few. Not so in rural Newfoundland. Here, where the pace is unhurried and nature begins at the back door, moments of wonder and delight are commonplace. On this island even the birds are easygoing, welcoming visitors with an astonishing absence of fear.

Grey Jays, also known as Canada Jays or Whisky Jacks, abound in rural areas of the province. They’re easily identified by their grey, white and black plumage, reminiscent of a faded magpie. They demonstrate an impressive repertoire of vocalizations, often accompanied by equally impressive feats of aerial acrobatics. Grey Jays are bold and inquisitive and remarkably fearless, and with a little patience and the right incentive, they’ll even eat out of your hand.

Like their cousins the crows, Grey Jays are omnivores. That is, they enjoy a diet of both plant and animal origin. They’ll happily chow down on either a piece of fruit or a dead mouse. But if you’re looking to really ingratiate yourself with these cheeky birds (and you’re fresh out of dead mice), a handful of dry cat food will quickly attract the entire family. Scatter it on the ground for several feet in front of you, and wait quietly. They’ll be wary and hesitant, darting in to grab the farthest bits first, but if you don’t spook them, they’ll eventually come right up to you, and before long they’ll be bold enough to retrieve the bounty from your outstretched hand. Be prepared to have three or four of them vying for the best perch from which to nab the goodies, or attempting to land on your head to wait their turn.

Gray Jays
Grey Jays jostling for a place at the table

Grey Jays cache their food all summer long in preparation for the winter months, so once they’ve filled their beaks and cheeks to capacity (you’ll be amazed at how much they can stuff in there!), they’ll fly off to hide it in tree branches and in cracks in the tree bark, storing what you’ve given them for the lean times. But they’ll keep coming back until every morsel has been cleaned up

You can’t get much closer to nature than this, and once the jays have decided that you’re a friend, they’ll show up every day for the free handouts, so you can experience that thrilling connection over and over again.

One word of caution: while the adult birds are very well coordinated and generally quite careful not to hurt their benefactors, the babies are not as schooled in dining etiquette. The young birds are as exuberant as excited children and just as accident prone, so they occasionally will misjudge and peck your hand instead of the proffered snack. It’s advisable to wear a glove if the parents are accompanied by their offspring, which are the same size as mom and dad, but distinguishable by their solid, dark gray coloring.