Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. II April 1st, 1925 No. 19

Issued monthly during the winter season, weekly during the summer season, by the Mount Rainier Nature Guide Service.
F. W. Schmoe Park Naturalist.

(Perisoreus obscurus)

The young son went to the door one fine winter day contentedly bearing a huge slab of bread and butter. Two birds alighted upon it almost immediately knocking it from his hands. A third laboriously carried it away, pursued, amid an uproar of squawks and cries, by the first offenders. They were Gray Jays. In the resulting quarrel a Steller Jay appropriated the bulk of the booty.

On another occasion in the summer, a lady walking through the public automobile camp at Longmire Springs was startled by a sudden and enexpected commotion among the extensive decorations of her new spring bonnet. It was a Gray Jay appropriating for his own use some artificial grapes.

A Ranger stopped one morning in the deep woods that border the Paradise Trail to rest. His pack was heavy and he was tired. The sunny side of a mossy log invited him to sit down and he soon fell asleep, only to be frightened into wakefulness a few minutes later by an over-friendly bird fluttering into his face. Gray Jay again. "Drat those fool Camp Robbers," he said, "why cant they let a fellow rest."

Still you cannot help but admire the trim little scamps in spite of their insatiable curiosity and their boldness. Few birds are more friendly and none are so absolutely fearless. One winter we were "shooting" a tangled windfall of huge trees from across the trail near Narada Falls. The charges consisted of about five pounds each of T.N.T. placed in a notch on top of the dead logs and covered with a mound of packed snow. They made a fearful noise there among the silent hills. Several Gray Jays that had been attracted by the remains of our noonday lunch were perched upon the telephone wire not twenty feet away when we set fire to the fuses and hastily departed. When we returned the wires were still vibrating from the force of the explosion but the jays were still on them. Probably "still" is not the word. They were "back" on them again - for they must have been thrown into the air at least by the concussion. We marveled that they were not killed outright and still more that they did not seem to be in the least frightened or even excited although Steller Jays for a mile around chattered hysterically for an hour.

Last fall in Indian Henry's Hunting Ground where Gray Jays are particularly abundant and friendly, (although in Paradise Valley at the same elevation they are seldom seen during the summer) we found them unusually obstreperous. Upon being encouraged a little they gathered about the cabin in flocks and alighted upon the head and shoulders as well as upon the hands of anyone that offered them food. They even went so far as to perch upon the backs of our saddle horses that grazed near by (much to the annoyance of the horses) and on more than one occasion they alighted upon the camera of the photographer who was "shooting them."

They are garrulous fellows, fairly bursting with curiosity, clannish to an extreme, and omnivorous feeders. They will eat almost anything and lots of it. Due to the fact they are more often found about the public camp grounds and in the deep woods, where bird life is ordinarily rather scarce, they are perhaps the best known of the Park birds.

When camping we often torment them for our own amusement by throwing to them soggy pancakes or other fragments of food too heavy for them to carry away. The effort they expend is enormous and their struggles with refractory burdens are comical. Still they are clever rascals and usually succeed in their undertakings. Sometime ago we saw a jay flying away with a dead mouse in its beak. The cargo was too far forward and the jay was having trouble navigating. So without hesitating he dropped the mouse from his beak and snatched it from the air with his claws, as it fell he proceeded on his way with cargo "trimmed". On another time - it was one of those first ward days of spring and we had the windows and doors open to enjoy the balmy air - a Gray Jay flew through the window, snatched a piece of butter weighing about a quarter of a pound from the dinner table and dropped it in the center of the living room rug as he departed by way of the front door.

This particular member of the jay family is about the size of a robin, light gray with darker gray tail, wings and back. He wears a black hood on his rounded head. They are common everywhere in the forested areas of the Park and during the spring and fall are often found in the high alpine meadows although normally a bird of the upper Transition and Canadian zones.

Strange as it may seem for a bird that is so common and sociable and is known to live the year around in the Park, extremely little is known of its intimate home life. Although they are said to nest in the tall busy conifers the Naturalist has been searching for their domiciles for five years but has never found one or heard of one being found in the Park.

The vocal versatility shown by the bird, his inquisitive nature, his freedom from shyness, and informal way of dropping in one one's camp all contributes to the affectionate interest with which the Gray Jay is held by Rangers, campers and woodsmen wherever it is found.

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