Northland Nature: Gray jays survive harsh Northland winters
Winter is progressing well and by the time we reach early February, we are in the middle of the cold season. Still cold and dry, but earlier sunrises and later sunsets speak of lengthening days. By now, after the snows of January gave us the pres...
Winter is progressing well and by the time we reach early February, we are in the middle of the cold season. Still cold and dry, but earlier sunrises and later sunsets speak of lengthening days. By now, after the snows of January gave us the present snowpack, our local birds are coping with the winter as well as they can. Several kinds, including black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and redpolls, are regular and frequent bird feeder visitors.
Among the woods-wintering birds are the lesser-known boreal chickadees, black-backed woodpeckers, crossbills and gray jays.
Gray jays are cousins of the loud and well known blue jays. Though about the same size, gray jays look completely different. These forest jays are mostly gray with a light underside and head.
Young are a dark sooty color. Neither adults nor young are likely to be confused with the blue and white blue jays. But they can and have been mistaken for the masked northern shrike (which is an occasional visitor to our feeders too, but they come to try to catch birds feeding here).
Gray jays are also known as Canada jays, since they range far through the boreal forests of much of Canada all the way to Alaska. The birds are very hardy and are able to survive the severe cold by being versatile and willing to eat a variety of food. With such habits, their migration is quite limited during most years.
And again, they demonstrate the hardiness and versatility of those that successfully cope with Northland winters.
Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac" and "Butterflies of the Northwoods." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.