GREY JAY – (Perisoreus canadensis)
DESCRIPTION: The Grey Jay is mostly grey (as its name implies). The back and wings are medium grey, the under parts light grey, the head dark grey, the forehead and cheeks white. The short bill and the legs and feet are black. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are dark grey. This bird is around 30 cm (12 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Perisoreus-canadensis – The grey jay emits a variety of calls and sounds, but is not as vocal as the blue jay. It can also imitate the call of their predators, as a possible signal to other jays.
NAME: The English name ‘Jay’ is from French ‘Geai’ and might have been associated with ‘joyful’. The bird is also called Canada Jay or Whiskey Jack. The Latin genus name ‘Perisoreus’ would mean ‘bury beneath’, in reference to the bird’s hoarding habits. The bird is now officially the ‘Canada Jay’ (but still not the National Bird of Canada).
HABITAT: Boreal forest.
DIET: Omnivorous– from insects and arthropods to small rodents to bird chicks, fungi, berries and seeds. Will even pick blood-gorged ticks from the back of moose.
NESTING: This bird species will lay their eggs in the middle of the winter, and the female will incubate them in freezing temperatures (see photo below). The male feeds her while she keeps the eggs warm. The nest is insulated with cocoons and feathers and just large enough for the eggs and the mother’s body. About two to four light green eggs are laid, incubated by the female. Both parents feed the chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: Year-round resident of the boreal forest throughout Canada up to the tree line. In addition to Canada, its overall territory includes part of Alaska and sub-alpine forests in the American Rockies.
ON PEI: The grey jay is a year-round resident on Prince Edward Island, however its presence is listed as rare to uncommon.
CONSERVATION: The grey jay is not considered as threatened, however there is a concern about the bird’s population in the southern part of its range, due to climate change. This is because the species is so well adapted to long, cold winters. For example, milder winters will spoil the cached food before the bird can eat it.
There is an ongoing research project at Algonquin Park, ON, on the grey jay, where the population of this bird declined markedly in the last few decades.
NOTES: The bird has thick feathers to provide extra insulation in its harsh habitat. In order to survive the long Canadian winter, grey jays are hoarding food in thousands of caches, after wrapping it in their saliva and carefully covering it with moss, leaves or lichen. They apparently are able to remember the cache locations.
Grey jays have learned to associate humans with food in the forest, and will visit lodges, camps, and highway rest areas. They can become quite tame as well, and be hand-fed.
NATIONAL BIRD: Ahead of the Canada 150th Anniversary celebrations, Canadian Geographic Society launched a competition to name a national bird, since there is currently none. Among the finalist birds was the grey jay, and it was chosen by the society as our new ‘national bird’. However, since the federal government never itself endorsed this campaign, the nomination went nowhere, and Canada ended up not having a national bird yet, even for its 150th anniversary.
http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/gray-jay.html (Hinterland Who’s Who)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/grayjay.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/gray_jay.htm (National Park Service, Rocky Mountain)
GREY JAY – (Perisoreus canadensis)