Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/Clarks Crows and Oregon Jays

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Clark′s Crows and Oregon Jays on Mount Hood[1]}

BY FLORENCE A. MERRIAM

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CLOUD CAP INN, the loghouse hotel fastened down with cables high on the north side of Mount Hood, is too near timber-line to claim a great variety of feathered guests, but Oregon Jays and Clark′s Crows or Nutcrackers are regular pensioners of the house. The usual shooting by tourists does not menace them, for the nature-loving mountaineers, who keep the Inn and act as guides to the summit, guard most loyally both birds and beasts. They like to tell of a noble Eagle which used to fly up the canon and circle over the glacier every day, and they recall with pleasure the snowy morning when an old Blue Grouse brought her brood to the Inn, and the birds ate the wheat that was thrown them with the confidence of chickens. The Grouse were, apparently, regular neighbors of the Inn, and while there I had the pleasure of seeing a grown family. They fed on the slope close above me with the unconcern of domestic fowls, conversing in turkey-like monosyllables as they moved about, and two of them came within a few feet and looked up at me—that not forty rods from the Inn!

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CLOUD CAP INN

The pleasure of the sight was doubled by the reflection that such things could be so near a hotel, even on a remote mountain.

It was delightful to see how familiarly birds gathered about the house. You could sit in the front doorway and when not absorbed in looking oft on the three wonderful snow peaks — St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams — rising above the Cascade range, could watch Oregon Juncos, Steller′s Jays, Oregon Jays, and Nutcrackers coming down to drink at the hydrant twenty feet away; while the Ruby Kinglet and Whitecrowned Sparrow, together with Townsend′s Solitaire and other interesting westerners, moved about in the branches of the low timber-line pines; and Lewis′ Woodpeckers, with their long, powerful flights, crossed over the forested canons below. Crossbills had stayed around the house sociably for three weeks together, Mrs. Langille, the noble old mother of the mountaineers, told me. She said they would fly against the logs of the house and call till she went out to feed them. They left with the first heavy storms, though usually, she said: “That′s the time when we have birds come around the house—when there are storms.” And a friendly hospice the feathered wayfarers find it so long as the Inn is open!

The Oregon Jays and Clark′s Crows are, as I said, the regular pensioners of the house. The Jays look very much like their relatives the Canada Jays, but are darker, and when you are

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Clark′s Crows

close to them the feathers of their backs show distinct whitish shaft—streaks. The Crows have the general form and bearing of Crows, but are black only on wings and tail, their general appearance being gray. Speaking of the birds, Mrs. Langille said: “If I was in the kitchen myself I′d have them come right to the porch outside; when I′m in the kitchen I′m always throwing out crumbs for the birds and squirrels, and I′ve had the Jays come and sit right down on the block where I was cutting meat and take the fat right out of my hands.” Clark′s Crows, she said, would not eat from her hand, but would sit on the back porch

and call for their breakfast.

When I was at the Inn, the Chinese cook used to throw scraps from the table over a lava cliff, and both Crows and Jays spent most of their time carrying it off. As the foot of the cliff was one of the best places to watch them, I spent part of every day there, and when the smell of coffee grounds got too strong, consoled myself by looking through the trees up at the grand white peak of Hood.

It was interesting to see the difference in the ways of the two birds. The Nutcracker would fly down to the rocks with rattling wings, and, when not too hungry to be critical, would proceed to investigate the breakfast with the air of a judge on the bench, for he is a dignified character. To touch the hem of his robe to the food would have been defilement, so he went about pressing his wings tight to his sides, sometimes giving them a little nervous shake. To smile at this sober-minded person seems most disrespectful, but the solemnity of his gambols was surely provocative of mirth. Not content with turning his long-billed head judicially from side to side as he advanced through the scraps, if the biscuit on his left was not to his mind, with one great ungainly leap he would box half the compass and plant his big feet before a potato on his right. This he would proceed to probe with a grave air of interrogation, and if he decided the case in the negative would withdraw his beak and pass to the next case on the docket. Once when the potato was half a waffle, he pried it up tentatively with his long bill, and at last, deciding in its favor, proceeded to fly off with it, his long legs dangling ludicrously behind him.

The Oregon Jays were quite unlike their Crow cousins. They would come flying in, talking together in sociable fashion, and drop down so noiselessly you could but be struck by the difference between fluffy owl-like feathers and stiff quills. Sometimes one of the Jays would touch the side of a tree a moment before dropping lightly to the ground. All their motions were quick and easy, if not actually graceful, and they worked rapidly, with none of the profound deliberation shown at times by the Nutcracker. The smaller pieces of food they ate; the larger ones they carried off, usually in their bills, occasionally in their claws. In eating, the Jay would sometimes

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OREGON JAY

adopt the Blue Jay style and put his food under his foot, where he could pull it apart, throwing up his head to swallow. When the food was soft and too large to swallow at one gulp, both Crows and Jays would carry it to an evergreen, lay it down on a twig before them, and there eat comfortably, as from a plate. Both birds often flew to the ledges of the cliff for food that had lodged there in falling, and it made a busy scene when eight or ten of the big fellows were flying about the place at once.

  1. Read before the American Ornithologist′s Union. Nov. 16, 189S.