"The Naturalist and the Wonderful, Lovable, So Good, Very Bold Jay"

"Canada jays thrive in the cold. The life’s work of one biologist gives us clues as to how they’ll fare in a hotter world."

"A bird descends through the falling snow above the mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Its plumage is a near perfect match of the leaden clouds above. About the size of an American robin, the Canada jay alights on a branch and fixes its gaze on the pair of humans standing in snowshoes below. One of them, 81-year-old ornithologist Dan Strickland, has removed his glove in the late-winter cold. He repeats a series of squeaks made by loudly kissing the back of his hand. Soon, several more jays arrive. In less than two minutes, the first wild bird perches on his hand.

“It’s Will Koser,” Strickland declares, introducing the dominant male who rules this stunted patch of subalpine forest. All around, dark boughs of hemlock and cedar are heavy with snow and fringed in sage-colored shocks of witch’s hair lichen. Located near a ski lodge at the edge of Strathcona Park, a magnet for snack-laden skiers and hikers, this is prime real estate for Canada jays. The bird cocks his head and studies Strickland before snatching the crust of bread pinned beneath his thumb.

This is not Will Koser’s first encounter with baked goods; people have been feeding him and his forebears for untold generations. I was taught not to feed human food to wild birds, but Canada jays are a special case. They have a unique feeding strategy, and Strickland’s research has found that these occasional, supplemental treats may even help Canada jays raise more and healthier chicks."

Brian Payton reports for Hakai magazine November 14, 2023.


Source: Hakai, 11/17/2023