Ornithological Biography/Volume 2/The Canada Jay

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Corvus Canadensis, Linn.

PLATE CVII. Male and Female.

I have found this species of Jay breeding in the State of Maine, where many individuals belonging to it reside the whole year, and where in fact so many as fifteen or twenty may be seen in the course of a day by a diligent person anxious to procure them. In the winter, their numbers are constantly augmented by those which repair to that country from places farther north. They advance to the southward as far as the upper parts of the State of New York, where the person who first gave intimation to Mr Wilson that the species was to be found in the Union, shot seven or eight one morning, from which number he presented one to the esteemed author of the "American Ornithology," who afterwards procured some in the same neighbourhood. This species is best known in Maine by the name of the "Carrion Bird," which is usually applied to it on account of its carnivorous propensities. When their appetite is satisfied, they become shy, and are in the habit of hiding themselves amongst close woods or thickets; but when hungry, they shew no alarm at the approach of man, nay, become familiar, troublesome, and sometimes so very bold as to enter the camps of the " lumberers," or attend to rob them of the bait affixed to their traps. My generous friend, Edward Harris, Esq. of New York, told me that while fishing in a birch canoe on the lakes in the interior of the State of Maine, in the latter part of the summer of 1833, the Jays were so fearless as to alight in one end of his havk, while he sat in the other, and help themselves to his bait, taking very little notice of him.

The lumberers or wood-cutters of this State frequently amuse themselves in their camp during their eating hours, with what they call " transporting the carrion bird." This is done by cutting a pole eight or ten feet in length, and balancing it on the sill of their hut, the end outside the entrance being baited with a piece of flesh of any kind. Immediately on seeing the tempting morsel, the Jays alight on it, and while they are busily engaged in devouring it, a wood-cutter gives a smart blow to the end of the pole within the hut, which seldom fails to drive the birds high in the air, and not unfrequently kills them. They even enter the camps, and would fain eat from the hands of the men while at their meals. They are easily caught in any kind of trap. My friend, the Rev. John Bachman, informed me that when residing in the State of New York, he found one caught in a snare which had been set with many others for the common Partridge or "Quail," one of which the Jay had commenced eating before he was himself caught.

In the winter they are troublesome to the hunters, especially when the ground is thickly covered with snow, and food consequently scarce, for, at such a time, they never meet with a Deer or a Moose hung on a tree, without mutilating it as much as in their power. In the Bay of Fundy I observed, several mornings in succession, a Canada Jay watching the departure of a Crow from her nest, after she had deposited an egg. When the Crow flew off, the cunning Jay immediately repaired to the nest, and carried away the egg. I have heard it said that the Canada Jay sometimes destroys the young of other birds of its species, for the purpose of feeding its own with them; but not having witnessed such an act, I cannot vouch for the truth of the report, which indeed appears to me too monstrous to be credited.

I have often been delighted by the sight of their graceful movements on alighting after removing from one tree to another, or while flying across a road or a piece of water. They have an odd way of nodding their head, and jerking their body and tail, while they emit their curiously diversified notes, which at times resemble a low sort of mewing, at others the sound given out by an anvil lightly struck with a hammer. They frequently alight about the middle of a tree, and hop with airy grace from one branch to another until they reach the very top, when they remove to another tree, and thus proceed through the woods. Their flight resembles that of the Blue Jay, although I do not consider, it quite so firm or protracted.

The Canada Jay breeds in Maine, in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador. It begins so early as February or March to form its nest, which is placed in the thickest part of a fir tree, near the trunk, and at a height of from five to ten feet. The exterior is composed of dry twigs, with moss and grass, and the interior, which is flat, is formed of fibrous roots. The eggs, which are from four to six, are of a light grey colour, faintly marked with brown. Only one brood is raised in the season. I found the young following their parents on the 27th June 1833, at Labrador, where I shot both old and young, while the former was in the act of feeding the latter.

The young, which was fully fledged, had no white about the head; the whole plumage was of a very deep slate colour approaching to black, excepting the ends of the tail feathers, which were of a sullied white, the lower mandible almost white. The bill was (of course) shorter than that of the old bird, more dilated at the base, the bristles there proportionally shorter. The legs were of a deep purplish black. In short, it bore a perfect resemblance to the bird called the "Short-billed Jay, or Whiskey Jack, Garrulus brachyrinchus," of my excellent friend Mr Swainson, as described and figured by himself and Dr Richardson in their beautiful and valuable Fauna Boreali-Americana, (Vol. II. p. 296, PI. 551.) So unlike the parent birds did the young of this species appear, that before I saw them fed by the old ones, I urged my young companions to shoot every one of the brood, thinking they might be of a new species. The contents of the stomach of both young and old birds were insects, leaves of fir trees, and eggs of ants. The intestines measured one foot eleven inches. The flesh of both was of a dark bluish colour, and smelt strongly of their food.

I have represented a pair of these birds on an oak branch, with its rich autumnal tints, and have attached to it the nest of a hornet, having observed the bird in the State of Maine pursuing that insect.

CoRvus Canadensis, imw. Syst. Nat. p. 158 Lath. Synops. vol. i. p. 389.—Ch. Bonaparte, Sjnops. of Birds of the United States, p. 58.

Canada Jay, Corvus canadensis, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 33, PL 21. Fig. h—Nuttall, Manual, p. 232.

GARauLBs canadensis, Swains and Richards, Fauna Boreali-Americana, part ii. p. 295.

Adult Male. Plate CVII. Fig. 1.

Bill short, strongs straight, compressed, acute; upper mandible with the dorsal outline shghtly arched, the sides sloping, the edges sharp and overlapping, the tip slightly declinate; lower mandible with the back narrow, the sides sloping. Nostrils basal, open, covered by the reversed bristly-feathers. Head rather large, neck short, body rather slight. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus about the same length as the middle toe, anteriorly scutellate, compressed, acute behind; toes free, scutellate, the inner shorter than the outer; claws arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage soft, blended, slightly glossed. A tuft of reflected, adpressed, bristly feathers over the nostril on each side. Wings short; first quill very short, fourth and fifth longest. Tail longish, much rounded, of twelve rounded feathers. During winter, there is an accumulation of soft, downy feathers on the rump.

Bill and feet black. Iris brown. Forehead and feathers covering the nostrils brownish- white; throat, a collar passing round the lower part of the neck, and the lower parts generally of a white colour, slightly tinged with yellowish. The general tint of the upper parts is a dull leaden grey; the back of the neck black; the margins of the quills and coverts dull-white, as are those of the tail feathers, which are broadly tipped with the same.

Length 11 inches, extent of wings 15; beak 1; tarsus Ig.

Adult Female. Plate CVII. Fig. 2.

The Female scarcely differs in any perceptible degree from the Male; the light coloured tints being only more tinged with brown, and the grey of the upper parts somewhat duller.

Thk White Oak.

QuERCDS ALBA, JVUld. Sp. PI. vol. iv. p. 429 Michaux. Arbr. Forest, de I'Amerique Sept. vol. ii. p. 13. pi. 1. Pursh, Flor. Amer. Sept. voL ii. p. 633 MoNfficiA PoLYANDRiA, Linn. AmentacEjE, Juss.

Leaves oblong, pinnatifido-sinuate, downy beneath, the lobes linearlanceolate, obtuse, attenuated at the base, entire on the margin; the fruit pedunculate, the cupule tubercular, flat at the base, cupshaped, the acorn ovate. Although this species of oak is not abundant in Maine, where the Canada Jay chiefly occurs, I have employed it in my drawing, on account of the rich colouring of its fine leaves during the autumnal months. It is in Louisiana, where it is plentiful, that one must see it, to judge of the grandeur which it attains under favourable circumstances. I have often seen these oaks spreading their young branches amid the tops of Magnolias fully one hundred feet above the ground, with stems from four to six feet in diameter, to the height of fifty or more feet, straight as a line, and without a branch to that height. When left in fields, their tops, naturally inclined to spread, render their aspect majestic; and one is tempted to try to calculate the many years these noble trees have stood against the blast of the tempest. The wood, which is of excellent quality, being hard and durable, is applied to numerous uses. Its distribution is very extensive in the United States, it being found in the forests from Louisiana to Massachusetts, and in the western countries beyond the Mississippi.