Tag Archives: gray jay


4A pair of gray jays have finished their nest by early April.

I first saw the gray jays as they flew across the road in front of me.  They both carried loads of building materials in their bills.  The next day I went searching for their nest.  It was rather easy to find as they were both busy with construction.  The nest was about twenty feet high in a medium-sized black spruce.  They had completed a loose bowl of dry spruce twigs and were currently engaged with stuffing this framework with insulation.  The pair gathered black, grizzly hair lichens as well as spruce grouse feathers.  But their most prized finds were the long soft plumes of the northern hawk owl.  After delivering a load of insulation, the birds would hop into the nest and push with bills and feet as they rotated around in the nest, fitting and forming it to just the right shape.9The female begins sitting on the nest and a week later her clutch of spotted eggs is complete.  The pair is quiet at the nest site and does not attract attention of those nest raiders, magpies and ravens.  When a red squirrel was spotted nearby it was dive-bombed by the male gray jay and driven away.

8For nearly three weeks the female incubated her four eggs.  A few times a day she will leave the nest but only for a few minutes, perhaps to drink.

11The male gray jay shows up at the nest about once an hour or so to feed his mate.

5Laying eggs is an energy drain and the female spends hours sleeping.

10 Early nesting grays jays  must be able to handle cold, wet conditions in their Alaskan habitat.

12Both adults help feed the quickly growing gray jay chicks.  Gray jays store amazing amounts of food including carrion and I wondered if they would feed their cached supplies to their chicks.  But Instead they foraged the ground for insects and larva, much better food for the new chicks.

3851As the chicks grew the gray jays cached stores of carrion became more important.  And it quickly became apparent that the nest would never hold four growing chicks for long. By the time the chicks were about two weeks old, they jostle for the best position at the nest. I witnessed deliberate attempts by the larger chicks to force their smaller siblings out.  One morning there were just two chicks left in the nest.  Below the nest on the ground were the missing chicks, both dead.  From human eyes, a tragic event.  But for nature, another one of those mysteries of survival.

Come July of this year the name of the gray jay will change once again.  They will  officially be known as the Canada jay.  And like camp robber and whiskey jack, gray jay will be just another nickname used to describe this gray-colored jay of the northern forests.


fred rungi-11-4Fred Rungee at his cabin in September 2011.

Fred Rungee, everyone’s favorite mountain man in these parts, passed away on March 27, 2015 after spending more than 70 years in the Alaskan wilderness. He was ninety-three.  After retiring from the BLM as a fire management officer, he moved to a remote valley near Slana, Alaska and built a cabin.  His cabin,  “a short two and a half mile hike up the creek and then another half mile of side-hilling along the lake”,  kept Fred fit and ever young at heart.

carlson lake-1Fred’s beloved Lake in winter. He loved the solitude of those long winter months.

fred rungi-11-9Fred’s’ cabin, perched on a bench of bedrock overlooking a wilderness lake, is bear-proof and beautiful.

fred rungi-11-7One of Fred’s’ final days at his wilderness cabin.

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The old cross-cut saw kept the bears out of a small outbuilding.

Fred’s bear story.  To listen to the audio clip, click on left side of the bar. Volume on right side.

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Fred loved his gray jays.

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Walking the trail near his cabin.

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“Sit down and have something to eat.”  Guests were always welcomed with a bite to eat. Living mostly out of tins of food, Fred claimed to have “traveled several miles” around the tops of those tin cans with a can opener.

Farewell Fred.