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Thread: Gray Jays...to feed or not to feed?

  1. #1
    Senior Member grouseking's Avatar
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    Gray Jays...to feed or not to feed?

    Before I ask my question, I must make a statement. Gray Jays are annoying! I have only experienced them twice but on both occasions I could barely eat my food without them swooping down and attempting to take my food. They are opportunistic little buggers. At the same time they are one of the most interesting birds I have ever seen, and of course they are quite cute.

    Now to my question...and I guess a complaint as well. Why do we feed them so much food? It can't be good for them because I would think they become dependant on us. As long as there are peakbaggers I guess the jays will always be hanging around summits or campsites but what happens if there arent too many visitors? Have they become so dependant on human interaction that if we were to stop hiking, they wouldn't know how to get food on their own? I see so many pics of people feeding jays and I just wonder how they'd do without us around after all of the handouts.

    grouseking

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    Senior Member Waumbek's Avatar
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    It is not a good practice to feed them. Even when we do feed them and then disappear for awhile, they are survivors. They'll eat almost anything, including lichen, dead rodents, etc. They evidently have a high cache recovery rate. Lots of birds and animals hide food but do not find it again. Gray jays do.

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    Senior Member Neil's Avatar
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    I fed my brain to the birdy.

    The term "bird-brain" takes on new meaning!
    Look here for proof that the brain has no pain receptors. The little orange thingy is actually a piece of my post-frontal cortex.
    Last edited by Neil; 02-26-2006 at 07:04 PM.

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    Senior Member NH_Mtn_Hiker's Avatar
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    My name is Bob, and I'm a recovering Gray Jay feeder.

  5. #5
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NH_Mtn_Hiker
    My name is Bob, and I'm a recovering Gray Jay feeder.
    Count me in, too.

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    Senior Member LenDawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rooney
    Count me in, too.

    Busted. I too am a recovering gray jay feeder.
    Cut my pizza into ten slices instead of eight. I'm very hungry!

  7. #7
    Senior Member Waumbek's Avatar
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    Very funny, guys, but Grouseking's basic question is an important one. People used to think it was cute and harmless to feed the bears. (I can even remember when it was considered "nice" to feed caged deer cigarette tobacco!!) Then we learned it was deadly for bears. To feed them is to kill them with kindness. They get addicted to the path of least resistance to food. It sounds like birds are different. They'll feast off a feeder but revert readily to natural food sources if the easy meal disappears. Audubon Society says there isn't much research and that probably there's no "dependency" issue in feeding wild birds because you are only supplementing what they eat. But the research isn't there yet to say that with certainty.


    Does backyard feeding create a population of "dependent" birds?
    While research in this area is limited, so far studies suggest that backyard feeders are not creating a population of dependent wintering birds.

    Will birds suffer if feeders go empty?
    Natural food supplies are typically exhausted during winter, as birds consume all the seeds and fruits at one location before moving on to the next. Similarly, if backyard feeders go empty while homeowners are on vacation, birds will look elsewhere for food. If your neighbors are also providing food, birds from your feeders will likely spend more time feeding there. Since feeders only supplement natural foods, most species will not suffer if feeders go empty for days or even weeks at a time.

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    Senior Member Neil's Avatar
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    Seeing as how this thread has great potential, potential to outrun the great antler debate,that is, I'll have my say now, and forever hold my peace.

    Sharing a bit of trail mix with a Grey Jay and his buddies is inoccuous. The actual percentage of hiker derived calories that such a windfall supplies to our avian friends is insignifigant relative their regular diet. And even if the Jays around crowded spots like Marcy Dam did get a little paunchy and rear slightly larger broods? There would still be enough moose antlers to go around.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Puck's Avatar
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    Great question. I just submitted an article to Natural New England magazine that covers this very question. I interviewed LNT Master Educators, somebody retired from the forest service who has made 100 Mizpah-JAckson loop trips to see these birds as well as an ornithologist who has studied these birds for over 12 years.

    My conclusion...It is a grey issue. Like was mentioned research does not exist, especially for this bird. any information of population trends in the whites is anecdotal. An Audubon Christmas Bird count was just started in Crawford Notch in Dec, however, it will take some time to gather enough data to get a trend.

  10. #10
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    Feed the Jays?

    Grey jays have been cadging handouts from hikers and lumberjacks for generations. You don't really need to feed them, they'll help themselves to your food and anyone elses.
    for those inclined to oppose feeding wildlife, let's concentrate on not feeding black flies.
    the wuss formerly known as bushwhack bill

  11. #11
    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    Hey! why not a little trail magic for the Jays, too. Unlike feeding bears, it's harmless. If put in context, it helps establish a connection with and affection for nature. Let's lighten up, there are far more meaningful principles to uphold.

  12. #12
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Waumbek
    Very funny, guys, but Grouseking's basic question is an important one. People used to think it was cute and harmless to feed the bears. (I can even remember when it was considered "nice" to feed caged deer cigarette tobacco!!) Then we learned it was deadly for bears. To feed them is to kill them with kindness. They get addicted to the path of least resistance to food. It sounds like birds are different. They'll feast off a feeder but revert readily to natural food sources if the easy meal disappears. Audubon Society says there isn't much research and that probably there's no "dependency" issue in feeding wild birds because you are only supplementing what they eat. But the research isn't there yet to say that with certainty.
    A big issue with bears is that humans fear habituated bears and tend to kill them... Bears exploit a wide range of food sources and if human sources disappear, can also go back to natural foods.

    Does backyard feeding create a population of "dependent" birds?
    While research in this area is limited, so far studies suggest that backyard feeders are not creating a population of dependent wintering birds.
    Individual birds may not be totally dependent, but human feeding may allow a larger than normal population of birds. The effects could ripple through the eco-chain.

    Will birds suffer if feeders go empty?
    Human feeding of western ground squirrels alters the bacteria in their gut and impairs their ability to digest their natural foods. This significanly shortens their lives. Don't know if this is a problem with human-fed birds, but it is possible.

    I'm not suggesting that Waumbek's statements are wrong--just that there could be some subtle effects that could be difficult to discover or rule out. Probably needs more research...

    Doug

  13. #13
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    On a more serious note -

    To feed or not to feed Grey Jays is myoptic, IMHO. The real question is whether to feed or not to feed wild birds anywhere. Millions of tons of bird seed is grown for feeding wild birds - it's a huge industry. So, don't single out the Grey Jay simply because it has little fear of humans, but rather look at the entire picture.

    I don't agree with Stan - feeding bears and feeding jays is not the same. Bears can become habituated/dependent upon humans for a large portion of their food - grey jays don't.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Puck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rooney
    On a more serious note -

    To feed or not to feed Grey Jays is myoptic, IMHO. The real question is whether to feed or not to feed wild birds anywhere. Millions of tons of bird seed is grown for feeding wild birds - it's a huge industry. So, don't single out the Grey Jay simply because it has little fear of humans, but rather look at the entire picture.

    Good point.

    I know many people share trail mix and sandwiches with them...why not bring a block of suet? These birds are scavengers and would pick the fat off a moose carcass. At the moment they are nesting, the chicks will hatch in two to three weeks. They are very reliant on thier caches as well as anything else they can get.

  15. #15
    Senior Member the starchild's Avatar
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    my first experience with grey jays was on west bond. the little guys seemed so friendly i told my friends i am so connected to wildlife one would land on my out streached hand...and one did! This seemed really cool until the next day when we stopped at galehead hut to cook lunch and saw everyone feeding the birds and having them eat out of their hands. i felt at that time that is wasn't right, especially by backpackers and hikers who mostly feel the need not to litter, not to poop in rivers, keep food away from bears and what not. why such a blatant disregard of our philosophies to feed the cute birds?

    will someone (someone who believes feeding them is ok) please be so kind to simply explain why feeding a grey jay is ok, but feeding bears, raccoons, deer, and all the rest is bad? i am not understanding from the above posts what the difference is.

    some of the arguments for not feeding other animals certainly apply to grey jays and some of the arguments to feed them can certainly apply to other animals.

    are birds different? a special case? i know birdfeeders seem to be ok by everyone....unless yours is within reach of a bear!(i think we all saw those photos)

    i am not seeing a difference here except that grey jays are by and far the least likely to harm a human. is it considered ok to feed them because we are not scared of them? is it ok because they won't come to camp later and steal our food. this seems selfish to me. something shouldn't be considered ok to do just because it won't effect us later, it should be right to do because it is not harmful.

    is it considered ok to feed them just because, unlike bears, they will not return later causing property damage? because, unlike bears, if they decide not to wait for a hand-out and instead take the food, its not a scary, life or death encounter!??!

    the fact that many people say it doesn't make a difference because they will try to steal it anyways is not a pro-feed argument to me, its a very, very strong anti-feed argument to me. they have learned............ just like bears.

    -william
    the starchild chill will

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