Living Bird Magazine
Gray JayPerisoreus canadensis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Corvidae
The deceptively cute Gray Jay is one of the most intrepid birds in North America, living in northern forests year-round and rearing chicks in the dark of winter. Highly curious and always on the lookout for food, Gray Jays eat just about anything, from berries to small animals. They may even land on your hand to grab a raisin or peanut. During summer they hoard food in trees to sustain themselves through bleak winters.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The key to finding Gray Jays is to look at a range map and pay a visit to this bird’s northern or high-elevation boreal forests. After that, they’re likely to find you, as these curious birds investigate new sights and sounds in their territories. Look for them approaching quietly, making short flights from perch to perch or calling back and forth to each other.
- Arrendajo Canadiense (Spanish)
- Mésangeai du Canada (French)
Gray Jays visit feeders within their northern range, eating almost any kind of food (seeds, suet, etc.) offered on tube, platform, or ground feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The Gray Jay stores large quantities of food for later use. It uses sticky saliva to glue small food items to tree branches above the height of the eventual snow line. It may be this food storage behavior that allows the jay to live so far north throughout the winter.
- The Gray Jay nests during late winter, incubating its eggs in temperatures that may drop below minus 20°F. Oddly, it does not attempt a second brood in the May–June breeding period used by other birds in boreal habitats, even though those warmer conditions would appear to be more favorable.
- Paleontologists have recovered the fragmented fossils of two Gray Jays from the late Pleistocene (about 18,000 years ago), along with other boreal birds and mammals, at a cave in central Tennessee, indicating a much colder climate at that time than now.
- The Gray Jay ranges across northern North America, and its close relative the Siberian Jay spans a similar swath of northern Eurasia. Together, they complete a ring around the Northern Hemisphere. The two species share the habit of using sticky saliva to attach food to crevices in trees.
- A 2.5-ounce Gray Jay has to eat 47 calories (technically, kilocalories) per day, compared to a human’s daily diet of 2,000 kilocalories. Gray Jays take advantage of whatever food they can find. A Gray Jay was seen landing on the back of a live moose to eat blood-filled winter ticks. Another was observed tearing a baby bat away from its mother. Gray Jays may even attack injured larger animals.
- The Gray Jay has incredibly thick, fluffy plumage that it puffs up in cold weather, enveloping its legs and feet. Even its nostrils are covered with feathers.
- The oldest Gray Jay on record was at least 17 years, 2 months old. Banded in 1985, it was recaptured and re-released by a bird bander in Colorado in 2002.