Canada Jay

Perisoreus canadensis

  • Version: 2.0 — Published May 27, 2011
  • Dan Strickland and Henri R. Ouellet

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Gray Jay.

Permanent range of the Gray Jay. This species has never been recorded outside of North America. Sources of distributional information used in compiling this map are available from the authors.

Adult Gray Jay, Coldfoot, AK, June.

Gray Jays inhabit boreal forest and other woodland from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south along the Pacific Coast as well as the Rocky Mountains. It shows extensive geographic variation, mainly in overall coloration and size, with some birds overall paler (Rockies), some with more contrasting plumage (widespread boreal forest breeders), whereas others are dingier with darker markings on the head (Pacific NW and Newfoundland)., Jun 09, 2006; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Gray Jay feeding on roadkill snowshoe hare, Fairbanks, AK, 8 March.

Gray Jays feed on a variety of food items including arthropods, berries, carrion, and nestling birds. They are incredibly hardy birds, withstanding some of the coldest temperatures in the world, and spending the winter where most other birds cannot. The following is a link to this photographer's website:, Mar 09, 2009; photographer Brian Sullivan

The Gray Jay is a widespread resident of North America's boreal and sub-alpine coniferous forests. Occupation of permanent all-purpose territories in such climatically hostile biomes is made possible by this bird's scatter-hoarding and recovery of seemingly perishable food items fastened in trees under bark scales and lichens with the assistance of copious sticky saliva from enlarged salivary glands.

Gray Jays nest during late winter in cold, snowy, and apparently foodless conditions, with eggs incubated at temperatures as low as -30° C. Second broods or replacement nests are not attempted in the seemingly more favorable May-June breeding period used by other boreal passerines. Once fledged, young stay in the natal territory until early June, when the dominant brood-member expels its siblings. Expelled birds attempt, singly, to join unrelated pairs whose own nesting has failed. Juveniles (dominant and expelled) use their natal or adopted territories as safe havens until a nearby breeding position becomes available. If nonbreeders are still on natal or adopted territories at the commencement of the following breeding season, they are actively prevented from approaching the nest by the adults and therefore do not help to feed nestlings. They may, however, begin to feed young after they have left the nest.

Some evidence indicates that Gray Jays are declining at the southern edge of their range, possibly in response to climate warming and the consequent degradation of the perishable food stores used for late-winter nesting.

Recommended Citation

Strickland, D. and H. R. Ouellet (2011). Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.