Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Gray Jay or Clark’s Nutcracker? A Case For Field Guides

©Bert Gildart: Since no one picked up on the misidentification I made on my posting of September 22, 2008, (A Life Time in the Mountains) perhaps I shouldn’t say anything. But I don’t like to make mistakes, so am going to point out that I mixed up the identification of what is commonly known as a Whiskey Jack with the Clark’s Nutcracker. The posting was from a trip to Banff National Park in Canada, and I’ve corrected the error. Because it’s easy to confuse the two under some conditions, here’s some information that will help with the correct I.D. It also makes a good case for always consulting field guides.


This is a Clark's Nutcracker, not a Gray Jay as I said in a recent post

The Whiskey Jack, also know as the Gray Jay, has a beak with a more rounded tip while the Clark’s Nutcracker has a sharply pointed bill. The call of the two birds is also much different. The Whiskey Jack creates a sound that with a little imagination can actually sound as though it’s saying Whisssssss keeey. The Clark’s Nutcracker has a more drawn-out sound: Kr-a-a-a, it grates out, Kr-a-a-a.

The Gray Jay’s head also distinguishes it, being dark toward the rear. By contrast, the Clark’s Nutcracker’s head is a solid gray.


What can sometimes be confusing is that both birds occupy the northern coniferous forest. Moreover, the Clark’s Nutcracker is usually difficult to approach, but that wasn’t the case six weeks ago above Lake Louise where I took this photo. The Gray Jay photo was taken in winter, and ironically on a winter trip to Banff. See the snow? Gray Jays are notorious for begging and for stealing items from your camp or picnic area–hence another name: Camp Robbers.


And this is a Whiskey Jack, also known as Grey Jay and Camp Robber, because it will swoop into your camp and steal any food left unattended.

Actually, I do know the difference between the two, but sometimes I get too many irons in the fire and that’s when I start making mistakes. I hope it doesn’t happen often. Interestingly, according to a field guide, the Clark’s Nutcracker was named after William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

I picked up my error while preparing a submission to my Stock Photo Agent in New York, and when Janie and I make submission to him, we both check things many, many times. That’s when I recalled my posting and today, when I reexamined it, I discovered the mistake.

To be absolutely sure I was correct this time I referred to one of our field guides. Over the years we’ve owned several and they are all available from Amazon. When traveling, we always pack them along in our Airstream, which will soon be put to use once again. We think the guides are invaluable.

Now aren’t you glad I made a mistake, ‘cause now look at all the extra information you got.


*We were in the Great Smokies, during a week when the park experienced a snow storm.


One Response to “Gray Jay or Clark’s Nutcracker? A Case For Field Guides”

  1. Kimmy Says:

    Bert you and I have something in common.. a need for the facts. lol
    I find myself researching things over and over just to make sure I have the facts straight before I post a blog about it. I just wish I could make my brain preserve all those facts over time. lol Maybe this is why I blog, so I can go back and remember what it is I’ve forgotten. ;)

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