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A bird by many names: the Canada Jay

By Linda Lindberg, FAP District Forester
Iron and Baraga counties, Iron Conservation District
CRYSTAL FALLS— If you have been in a conifer woods lately, you may have been lucky enough to hear the swish and see a beautiful but curious bigger gray bird. That bird is a Grey Jay, Lumberjack, Camp Robber, Whiskey-jack or newly, officially renamed Canada Jay. They are mostly found in the boreal forests of North America.
    These birds are quite friendly and will steal some of your lunch if you don’t pay attention. The Canada Jay is a cooler climate bird and is unique because it caches its food. It puts up to 100,000-plus food caches in different nooks and crannies throughout the woods every year. The Canada Jay has a fantastic memory and can find them all when needed for winter feeding. Some of these caches include mushrooms, berries, meat, and other perishable foods.
    These birds also mate for life.
Their ability to cache food and remember where it is enables them to nest and have their hatchlings in the early February or March winter months. They build their nests on the southwest side of the tree to warm the nestlings in the sun. They put the nest in a mature conifer tree, including spruce and balsam, or black spruce.
    The male is the constructor of the nest, using brittle dead twigs pulled from trees, along with bark strips and anything else they find. Most nests are only big enough for the female and the eggs. Nests are usually close to the trunk of the tree and are usually 3 inches wide and 2 inches deep. Some insulation of the nest comes from cocoons of the forest tent caterpillar when available. The eggs are spotted and average three per nest. The female cares for the nestlings and the male supplies the food for all from their caches.
    Young Canadian Jays leave the nest between 22 and 24 days after hatching. After 55-65 days, they reach full adult size and fight for whom will remain in the nest and stay with the adults. Usually one remains after the fight and it is usually a male. All others are sent out into the wild.

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