Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Gray Jay, Perisoreus canadensis, photographed during a snowstorm on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Washington [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Lee Rentz, March 2009.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

A big fluffy gray bird in the north woods is almost certainly a Gray Jay. Even from this angle, we can see the contrasting dark cap that confirms our initial identification.

But which Gray Jay? This bird’s crown seems to be extensively dark, with the pale area restricted to the forehead. That suggests that the subspecies involved here is the aptly named obscurus, until just 75 years ago often treated as a separate species, Oregon Jay.

Oregon Jay is just one of very many English names that have been attached to this bird over the years. My favorite: whisky jack, which has nothing to do with intoxicating beverages; it’s instead the folk etymology of a native name for the bird, roughly transliterated “whiskey john.” That name apparently meant something like “forgeworker,” in reference to the bird’s sooty plumage.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Michael
    March 30, 2009

    Certainly a Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) – The dark cap and sideburns are characteristic. I don’t know if fluffiness can be considered a field mark. The quizzical stare suggests a clever, opportunistic corvid.

  2. #2 Russell
    March 30, 2009

    That is a cold bird, currently wondering why it isn’t one of the species that flies to the tropics during the winter months.

  3. #3 dhogaza
    March 30, 2009

    The quizzical stare suggests a clever, opportunistic corvid.

    Just waiting for the photographer to get out a bag of gorp …

    I love gray jays in winter!

  4. #4 The Ridger
    March 30, 2009

    That bird looks nothing like the picture in my guide – though it does match the description. Gorgeous shot!

  5. #5 Alex
    March 31, 2009

    The fluffy rotund body and quzzically angled head are charactersitic of Godbird. Godbird chews the unfaithful and regurgitates their essence into new galaxies. Gazing across time and space Godbird stamps and coos and then stamps some more. Such are the enigmatic ways of Godbird.

  6. #6 pk1154
    March 31, 2009

    Completely agree that this is a gray jay and totally love the picture.

    A ‘baroo’ worthy of C.O. and one which would surely inspire numerous squeals of “kawaii!” from the world experts in cute.

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