[Tweeters] Feeding Gray Jays

Lee Rentz lee at leerentz.com
Wed Sep 17 17:47:20 PDT 2008

Gray Jays evolved to hang around large mammals and feed on shreds of
fatty tissue left clinging to bones. I recently saw one feeding on a
dead elk skeleton at Elk Pass in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. I don't
see any real threat to the jays from people feeding them high energy

Except: I recall reading that a former director of the High Desert
Museum in Bend, Oregon, may have contracted a degenerative brain
disease after being scratched by the talons of a Great Horned Owl he
was holding at a fundraising event. The very possibility that this
could happen makes me a bit hesitant about physically touching the
Gray Jays I feed. After all, I don't know what corpse they were last
perched on.

Lee Rentz
Shelton, WA
http://www.leerentz.wordpress.com (natural history and photography

>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

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