The Whiskey-Jack

Whiskey Jack Software is named in honour of the whiskey-jack, a fluffy, pale-gray, long-tailed, short-billed bird of the North American boreal forest that is a little bigger than a robin and looks something like a large chickadee. Picture of a whiskey-jack Native Americans called it "wiss-ka-tjon" and Europeans who encountered the bird in logging camps pronounced the name "whiskey john" or "whiskey-jack". It was known for a long time as the Canada jay — its taxonomic name is Perisoreus canadensis — and it is now properly called the gray jay, but I like the rustic, historical flavour of the coloquial name "whiskey-jack".


The whiskey-jack is found throughout the coniferous and mixed forests of the boreal and sub-alpine regions of North America. It's territory extends from the the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and from the tree line in northern Canada and Alaska to the northern edge of the prairies, reaching down to the Great Lakes and northern New England and along the west coast as far as northern California and into the Rocky Mountains to Arizona and New Mexico.


Prefering spruce and fir woods and sometimes found among aspens or birch, it avoids towns and villages. Although often found around cottages and in camps because of its characteristic curiosity, it retreats into the forest as soon as a camp becomes a permanent settlement.


The whiskey-jack is notably inquisitive and trusting. When you're hiking in the northern woods, it will fly up and perch on a tree branch right beside you and give you a good looking over, seemingly eager to know what you're doing. It is easily tamed and makes good company for people in lonely places.

Importance to the Ecologist

The whiskey-jack serves us as a sort of ecological 'canary in a coal mine'. Because it is specially adapted to harsh winters, its level of health and prosperity is an indicator of the degree of impact of climatic warming on the boreal forest ecology.