South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Gray Jay

Perisoreus canadensis

Length: 11.5 inches Wingspan: 17 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Gray overall, with short black bill and black patch on back of head

Gray Jay - Perisoreus canadensisA bold resident of the west and north, Gray Jays are often seen stealing food items from unwary hikers and campers, a habit that has earned them a nick name of the "Camp Robber".  Well adapted to the cold climates in which they are normally found, Gray Jays will stash food items in crevices of bark, and retrieve the food items during harsher times.  This habit and resultant availability of food allows them to breed much earlier than other species, with nesting occurring as early as the late winter.  Gray Jays have several races which differ most notably on the size of the black patch on the back of their heads.

Habitat: Shows a very strong preference for spruce trees, generally being found in spruce or mixed forests.  

Diet: Omnivorous, feeding on insects, birds eggs and young, small rodents, fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, carrion, and human refuse.

Behavior: Very opportunistic, taking food in a wide variety of manners as opportunities present themselves.  They will store food to use during harsh winter months.

Nesting: April through June.  The nest is a cup of twigs, bark, mosses, and lichens, lined with softer materials.  The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, and she alone incubates the eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the female typically stays with the young at the start, while the male brings food.  After several days, both parents bring food.  The young leave the nest after about 3 weeks.

Breeding Map: Breeding Bird Survey map

Song: Wide variety of vocalizations, from soft whistles, to rougher and harsher notes.

Migration: Generally a permanent resident.  Some birds that summer at higher elevations may move to lower elevations for the winter.

Similar Species: Generally distinctive if seen well.  In range, possibly confused with other mostly gray birds, such as Clark's Nutcracker

Conservation Status: There may be some local declines in areas of habitat loss, but overall, populations are stable, and they are found over a very wide geographic area.  The IUCN lists the Gray Jay as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Gray Jay

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Gray Jay"

3) eNature.com: Gray Jay

Photo Information: August 9th, 2007 - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Gray Jay photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view 
Gray Jay - Perisoreus canadensis - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon permanent resident in the Black Hills