Gray Jay

Scientific Name: Perisoreus canadensis

Gray Jay

A Gray Jay perched in a tree. Boreal Forest Library
Image Source

Almost everybody who hikes or camps in the boreal forest will see a Gray Jay. That is because they are not shy and will swoop down to visit campsites to find food. The Gray Jay is a bird of many names; they are also called Whiskey Jacks, Canada Jays and even Camp Robbers

What do gray jays look like?
A gray jay has a white belly, forehead, breast, and neck. The rest of its body is gray. Young jays are slate colored gray all over. Gray jays look fluffy because they have long insulating feathers to keep them warm in the cold winter months. Gray jays are about 10-13 inches long.

What do gray jays sound like?
They have a variety of different calls some are harsh and high pitched. They are generally quiet and quite tame. If you hold food out for a gray jay then very often it will come take it from your hand!

Where do gray jays live?
These jays live in northern coniferous forests. They are found all over the Border Country. They live in small groups and are rarely seen alone.

What is so interesting about gray jays?
These birds spend most of their time during the warmer months collecting food. They hide excess food in places called caches. Before they hide the food they mix it with their sticky saliva and then make small pellets out of it. These pellets are packed full of energy which they can use at a later date in the winter when food supplies are running low. The jays store the pellets in trees and under pine needles. This hidden food comes in handy in February when they begin building their nests.

When do gray jays nest?
Gray jays begin making their nests in February and start laying eggs in the middle of March. It is still cold in the northern forests at that time of year so the jays must eat lots of food to have enough energy for building and taking care of young. They rely on their caches of pellets for a lot of their energy.

What do they build their nests out of?
Gray jays use a collection of twigs, bark and sometimes pieces of wasp nests. The inside is lined with soft warm materials like deer, moose, snowshoe hare fur, and fine grasses. These soft materials are comfortable as well as insulative.

Where do the gray jays find the fur to make their nests?
Gray jays will feed on leftover carrion and will often pick up clumps of hair to take back to their nests.

What are some other names for gray jays?
Gray jays are known also as “Camp Robbers” and “Whiskey Jacks.”
The next time you are in the Northern Woods do not be surprised if a friendly gray jays comes by to see if you will share your food!

References

Farrand, J. Jr. 1988. An Audobon Handbook: Eastern Birds. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: a field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN.

Udvardy, M.D.F. 1977. The Audobon Society field guide to North American birds: Western region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Dave Freeman is the Executive Director of the Wilderness Classroom. Dave and Amy Freeman have traveled over 30,000 miles by kayak, canoe and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places. National Geographic named the Dave and Amy Adventurers of the Year in 2014.

When the Freemans aren’t on expeditions or conducting school assemblies, they guide canoe, kayak and dogsled trips.

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