Camp Robber, gray jay and whiskey jack… It sounds like the start of a joke. This comical bird, the Canada jay (Perisoreus canadensis) is one of my favorite birds. They’re entertaining when I’m snowshoeing through the woods. A bird with this nicknames has to be quite a character. They fly up from behind, land ten feet ahead of me, wait until I pass, chatter at me, and fly up from behind again. These comical birds amuse themselves with me as much as they amuse me. They often stay with me for 15 or 20 minutes, longer if I bring peanuts to leave on stumps.
According to Cornell University’s website, All About Birds, “Gray Jays sing a “whisper song,” a series of soft melodious notes interspersed with quiet clicks, lasting up to a minute.” I haven’t heard their song. I have heard their whistles and chatters, and more than once I’ve fallen for their imitations of blue jays, pine grosbeaks and American crows. They mimic other birds as well. When they’re going to mob me to find out what I am, they’re noisy in the distance and continue to chatter while they land, look, and move around me again.
Camp Robber Appearance
Canada Jays are a pretty bird with a white head that sports a black cap. Canada jays have varying degrees of dark to light gray wings, back and tail with a white/light gray body. They have a stocky body and short beak. When gliding, their wings are often lower than horizontal making them easy to identify in the air.
Camp robbers range from northern and eastern US into Canada. They’re found in mixed evergreen and deciduous forests. Members of the crow family, they aren’t picky eaters. They’ll eat berries, seeds, small animals such as mice, and have carrion for dessert. If I’ve snap trapped a mouse in the house and bring it with me, a Canada jay that’s familiar with me will take the mouse from my hand. They visit my yard, usually staying at the edge of the woods near the maple and ash trees, but never visit the feeders close to the house. They eat suet and seeds, raisins and craisins, and food scraps left for them.
Are Camp Robbers Really Thieves?
Not everyone is amused when it comes to camp robbers. For some folks, these busy birds are pests. They’ve earned nicknames such as meat bird, camp robber and bait thief. They’re also known as lumberjack because of their habit of visiting lumberjacks throughout the day, gorby and whiskey jack. I’ve heard stories of them stealing lumberjacks’ lunches when given the opportunity. They’re not shy, just the opposite, a little pushy at times. They’ll land on your head or shoulder, pull your hair and sit on your hand to eat if you’ll feed them.
It takes a bit of time and patience to make friends with this quirky birds. When you realize you’ve been spotted by Canada jays, whistle to them and offer a treat. In due time, you’ll be able to whistle to call them to you. By late winter they might come to you for food, leave, and return a few moments later. They’re early nesters and might be feeding their offspring. You won’t make them dependent upon you for survival by feeding them. They have food caches throughout the wood lot to fall back on. You might make a long-term friend as these birds live a decade or longer.
Take a look around while you’re in the woods. Listen. If you hear busy birds chattering back and forth, it’s likely a few camp robbers talking up their next caper.