Nature Notes

Vol. III November 1, 1925 No. 12


With practically every bird and animal that makes a seasonal migration from Summer to Winter range and vice versa the movement is from the high country down to the more moderate climate of the valleys in Winter and from the hot valleys to the more moderate high country in Summer. With the Gray Jay and the Magpie however this order is reversed. Why I cannot say.

From the last storms of Spring until the first snow of fall in the Winter the Black-billed Magpie is never seen in the Park. As soon as Winter sets in in earnest they arrive in the high alpine valleys by twos and threes until soon they are one of the most common of our Winter birds. In Summer they inhabit the semi-arid plains to the east of the Cascade Mountains where there is no relief from the torrid sun and the thermometer often reaches 110 in the shade. In Winter they migrate to a land of tremendous snowfall beyond the mountains. True it is colder east of the mountains than upon the shoulders of Mount Rainier so there may be some excuse for this change.

But with the Gray Jay, who follows the example of the Magpie, I can see no method in his madness. On October 20th, there is no snow in the high valleys such as Paradise and Indian Henry's and no Gray Jays. On October 21st the snow is falling and the ground already covered to the dept of six inches. When we arrived at the cabin in Indian Henry's we were surrounded by Gray Jays. The same was true in Paradise Valley. It is interesting to note also that they are much more friendly on their Winter range. Although they are never shy, except for a few weeks during the nesting period, it is surprising how fearless they are in Winter. A hand extended with a few bits of food will bring two or three birds at a time to light upon it. I have even seen them alight upon a horse's back, much to his irritation.

The Gray Jay migrates only a few miles each season from the low forested valleys to the high open meadows where the snow lies many feet on the ground and the mercury often drops below zero in the Winter and back to the lower valleys only a few miles away in Summer. When the robins, varied thrushes, and other migrant birds are going down the gray jays and magpies are going up.

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