Common Name
GRAY JAY

Scientific Name
PERISOREUS CANADENSIS

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Photo by Nicky Davis
Photo Copyright Nicky Davis

The gray jay, Perisoreus canadensis, is a widespread permanent resident of the boreal and sub-alpine coniferous forests of North America. It is a common resident in the coniferous forests of southern, central, and eastern Utah, especially in the Uinta Mountains. It is able to survive in such severe climates due to its unusual food storage techniques. Gray jays have enlarged salivary glands that allow them to produce large amounts of sticky saliva with which they can fasten food items to trees. They depend on this food source to make it through the winter.

The gray jay eats insects, berries, and the flesh of dead animals. Pairs form long-term bonds and maintain and defend the same year-round territories for many years. The male selects a nesting location, and then both the male and female construct a well-insulated nest. They pluck dead twigs directly off of trees and weave them, along with insect cocoons, strips of bark, and grasses, into a cup nest. The pair nests during cold, snowy conditions in late winter when food is scarce. The female incubates the three or four eggs for about nineteen days, leaving only for a few minutes at a time. The male feeds the female as infrequently as once a day. Both parents feed the nestlings until they leave the nest, at about three weeks of age. They remain as a family group until the young are about eight weeks old, at which time the dominant sibling forces the other young out of its parents' territory. The dominant sibling will be forced out at the start of the next breeding season.

Sources:

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Strickland, D. and H. Ouellet. 1993. Gray Jay. Birds of North America 40.

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