[Tweeters] FW: Feeding gray jays?

Jesse Ellis jme29 at cornell.edu
Wed Sep 17 16:04:34 PDT 2008

Barbara -

I have an opinion about this, but I'm a biologist and probably
shouldn't advocate feeding wildlife, so I'm replying off list...

I did this last week. It's marvelous to have them land on you! My
opinion is that while some foods (esp. processed foods with who knows
what in them) may be unhealthy for Gray Jays, stuff like nuts and
meat probably are not, and probably make up a large part of their
diet (esp. in winter). Cheetos, no. But nuts? I can't imagine it's
not fine for them. WE eat nuts of all kinds, and we didn't evolve in
particular relation to, say, Brazil nuts. Just 'cause they're foreign
doesn't mean they're not okay. As for feeding from the hand, as a
behavioral biologist I would offer that their friendliness is
probably a well-established part of their behavior. It's not going to
change, and you probably aren't encouraging something they wouldn't
already do. The only negative effect I can imagine is that they may
become MORE likely to steal your food in camp if you're feeding them.
But I think they're already extremely likely to do that anyhow, so
it's not a huge deal. The bottom line is to ask whether long term
feeding would have a negative effect on the birds or their behavior
towards people. I think Gray Jays are already where (biologically)
feeding would get any other bird or mammal, and they're adapted to be
there, so feeding doesn't throw them off and force reliance, like it
might a ground squirrel or a hummingbird, say.

Maybe this is all me rationalizing, too, but that's my opinion, for
what it's worth.

Jesse Ellis

At 3:43 PM -0700 9/17/08, Barbara Miller wrote:

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>During the a hike on the High Lakes Trail on Mt. Rainier yesterday,

>when I sat down to rest, I noticed a gray jay looking down at me

>from a (very) nearby branch. Since I can't resist these fellows

>(and, I confess, because I knew it would impress my hiking

>companion), I got some of my snacking nuts out and put one in my

>outstretched hand; sure enough the bird landed on my fingers and

>took the nut. We did a few more of these at the next stop and

>immensely enjoyed the interaction with the birds.


>Then I remembered the Park's stern injunction not to feed the

>wildlife. While I would certainly never intentionally feed a bear,

>and wouldn't particularly care to feed a ground squirrel, somehow

>the boldness of these "camp robbers" seems like so much a part of

>their nature, that it doesn't seem like the same thing, although of

>course it is.


>I'd be interested in what members of the group think about this. I

>justified it to myself at the time by saying that I was giving them

>dry roasted, unsalted nuts that would give them good nutrition and

>that I was not inducing them to behave in a way that was not

>"natural" for them. I guess the question is: am I wrong to make

>this kind of rationalized exception to what I think is a very

>reasonable rule?


>Barb Miller

>Bellevue, WA

>Bmill07(AT) Comcast (DOT) net



>Tweeters mailing list

>Tweeters at u.washington.edu


Jesse Ellis, Ph. D.
Neurobiology and Behavior
jme29 at cornell.edu
111 Mudd Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, 14853

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