Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE ALASKA JAY is found throughout much of the timbered section of Alaska and is particularly at home in the spruce forests of the interior. This bird is sometimes called the whiskey jack, moose bird, or camp robber.

It is a plain jay with soft fluffy feathers. The adult bird has a white forehead with a dark band behind the eye and throat. (See illustration.) The young bird has an evenly dark, almost black, head and neck, and in general is much darker than its parents. One of the best field characters of the adult is the uniform gray coloration. This species lacks the crest of the blue jay of the eastern United States and the blue-fronted jay on the Pacific coast. It has a length of about 12 inches.

One of the outstanding characteristics of this bird is its bold nature. No sooner is the camper's fire lighted than the Alaska jay is on hand to share whatever food may be available. Food that is left on the camper's table, bacon left in the frying pan, and other camp supplies, if unattended, are never safe from this bird. Even the cabin door has to be tightly closed against its inquisitive bill.

This bird breeds very early in the spring or even in the latter part of winter, In the McKinley region the Alaska jays commence their spring song about March 20, while the snow is still several feet deep. This singing marks the beginning of their nesting activities. Their nests are artfully concealed in the dense tops of spruce trees, where they are well protected from rigorous snowstorms by the overhanging branches. They are compactly made of sticks and frequently lined with hair from caribou or mountain sheep. On May 20, 1926, I found a pair of these jays in a spruce grove on the Savage River. Their brood of three bob-tailed young was just out of the nest and barely able to fly.

At Mount McKinley, George Wright and I watched and enjoyed a contest between an Alaska jay and a northern red squirrel over a piece of discarded cheese. Every time the jay alighted in the top of the spruce tree near our camp the squirrel selected the correct tree, ran up it, and drove the jay away. After the squirrel had succeeded in driving off the jay, we watched it remove the piece of cheese that it had cached in the crotch of a tree and carry it to a nearby rotten log where it was carefully hidden again. Evidently this squirrel did not trust the Alaska jay.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010