[Tweeters] FW: Feeding gray jays?

Rob Sandelin floriferous at msn.com
Thu Sep 18 09:33:50 PDT 2008

I think the notion of feeding wildlife in heavily used park areas is that
these animals find they can get food from humans and thus ignore to some
extent the harder to get but often more nutritious natural foods in the
environment. If this balance gets tipped too far, the animals might not lay
away enough food or reserves to make it through winter. There is research
about this done in the National Park service on mammals but I do not know of
any bird studies.

While one person might feed them unsalted nuts, the next person feeds them
cheese its or some other poor quality food and the animal takes what ever it
can get. There was a research project done by a UW grad student which showed
that Gray Jays do not reject the low nutritious or harmful food, they take
it just as readily as high quality food.

My understanding is that Gray Jays make it through the winter by caching
food reserves which then freeze and can be retrieved later when needed.
Some human food in this regard will not store and thus wastes the Jays
energy in caching it. I recall reading a study done which indicates that
Climate change is a potential problem for these birds because the reduction
in days of freezing is thawing out their food caches making less food
available. A reduction of food cache might mean the end of the line for a
particular Jay.

It would be interesting to compare survivability rates of jay populations
which are human fed vs. wild foraging. It could very well be that human fed
birds actually do better because they have higher overall nutrition and
still gather and cache adequate food. I read somewhere that feeder birds
only get a certain percentage of their food from feeders and still naturally
forage, and that the nutrition from the feeder supports natural foraging by
increasing the birds overall nutrition.

While I was a Park Ranger (1980's era) I looked through the research in the
Park System archives about studies done about human feeding. All I remember
finding is mammal studies, chipmunks, squirrels, bears and deer. The work
to that point showed human fed animals declined in health when being fed. I
used to do a program about it but in the years that have passed I have
largely forgotten the details. I am sure more research has been done since
that time and I would suspect Gray Jays have been studied since they are so
visible and easy to get to.

Rob Sandelin
Naturalist, Writer, Teacher
Former Park Naturalist
Snohomish County

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