The Creature Feature – Gray Jays

gray jayGray Jays are a member of the crow and jay families. They are known also as the Canada Jay, Whiskey Jack, and as the notorious Camp Robber. They are approximately 10-13″, and are an active and quite friendly bird. If you have ever camped in the mountains, you have no doubt been visited by these birds. They are very motivated to try to procure your food so they can hide it, and save it for later consumption. They will collect food scraps and roll them up into a saliva covered ball, then stash it among the pines needles. On this particular outing I literally had them landing in my hand as seen in the photos below.

The Gray Jays are easy subjects to photograph. Being a tame bird and usually found in small numbers, they often approach you, and make for great close-up subjects. Being mid-toned in color, the cameras sensor usually meters them correctly with little to no exposure compensation required if shooting in aperture priority mode. They do jump around quite a bit as they are foraging for any food near you that may be available (they do seem to love chocolate cookies for some reason!?) and will often use any gear you have laying around as a perch, so interesting  photographic opportunities are likely to be had.

As with most wildlife photography, a relatively fast shutter speed 1/500 sec. or faster is a good idea if you are looking to freeze action. Due to the Gray Jays nature and the fact that they often times are very close to you, a shorter focal length lens may be perfectly adequate. I utilized a 70-200 f/4 lens for the photographs below, and the zoom lens really worked well as the Jays varied their distance from me. Being out on the mountain on a clear day with snow on the ground provided me with plenty of light, both direct and reflected.  I was able to shoot at a low ISO, and still maintain a fast shutter speed. As always with bird photography, it is most desirable to have the sun to your back to provide even illumination and prevent any shadows on the subject. When shooting in forests (as in the situation of photographing these birds) it is very difficult to avoid shadows, as there are branches everywhere interfering with direct lighting. All we can do is out best, and keep an eye out for best lighting practices.

Thanks to Gregg Kerber for providing two of the images seen below. He captured the Jays as they were landing in my hand and snacking on my chocolate cookies. 🙂 You can visit his website and see his beautiful photography at

Gray JayGray Jay - Image courtesy of Gregg KerberGray Jay - Image courtesy of Gregg KerberGray JayGray Jay

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