Our cheeky Canada jay

This bird, a permanent resident of Canada’s coniferous forests and North America’s boreal forests, has been suggested for our country’s national bird. It is quite tame, sturdy, and particularly intelligent.

In English it’s often called the whisky jack, an adaptation of the Algonquin name “wiskedjak”, which means “mischievous spirit”. Another of its names is grey (or gray) jay.

Outdoor types know this bold bird well, as it likes to visit campgrounds, eat from the hands of hikers and filch food left unsupervised. It also visits feeders. A close relative of the raven, blue jay and crow, the Canada jay is omnivorous. It eats insects, berries and carrion, as well as raiding the nests of other birds.

It is a staunch ally of the moose, because it sometimes perches on the back of this big cervid to pluck the blood-filled ticks lodged in its fur. The Canada jay also visits areas where moose congregate, exploring the still-warm bedding of forest debris, looking for ticks.

In summer and fall, the whisky jack takes advantage of the abundant food to build up its winter stores. In just one day it can hide more than 1,000 different foods – insects, mushrooms, berries or animal flesh – under tree bark or in a hole in a tree.

One unusual thing: its salivary glands produce a sticky substance with which it coats its food, which is then easily stuck under the bark of trees. Using loud screeches, it chases intruders on its territory to protect its booty.

A Canada jay’s nest is a thick platform of twigs, moss and bark lined with down, built between two and nine metres from the ground in a coniferous tree. The clutch is composed of two to five eggs, which hatch very early in the spring. The chicks remain in the nest for three weeks before flying.

While this bird is a favoured target of many predators – such as falcons, owls, ravens, martins and raccoons – its populations are in good health. Our cheeky whisky jacks should be around to brighten our forests for a good long time.

Come enjoy a visit to Animalium, Mont-Tremblant’s zoological museum, to discover the wildlife of the boreal forest, the Arctic tundra and the African savannah.


By the same author: Can a flying squirrel really fly? (Click the image below)


Jacques Prescott87 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.


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