True to its name, the Gray Jay has a gray body, a white forehead, and the back of its head and nape is blackish. It has a short black bill and a long tail. Both males and females look the same.
These birds will eat at bird feeders or anywhere else it can scavenge food. They do not migrate and thus spend winters in the cold and snowy northern regions. Gray Jays store food for the winter and start hoarding it as early as spring. They have very sticky saliva, which they use to attach the food to trees and various other hiding places. When they are not eating people food, they eat insects, berries, mushrooms, and sometimes even other small animals such as toads, mice, and carrion.
Gray Jays are monogamous and live in pairs. A third bird often accompanies a pair, which is usually one of the young ones from the previous brood. They only nest in trees and make a large nest that has a base of sticks and an inner construction of tree bark, feathers and lichen. The female lays from 2-5 eggs that are greenish-gray with brown spots.
Although it's hard to fathom, the young of most Gray Jays do not make it through the first year. They breed early and the little ones are ready to leave the nest by late April. When they have been out of the nest for approximately five weeks, a strange behavioral event occurs. The baby birds begin to fight with one another and within the range of 10 days or so, one young bird has established itself as the dominant bird of the group. The dominant young one then accompanies the parents for at least another year, becoming an extra bird that lives with the pair and shares in their food and has their protection.
The other siblings, who were left behind because they were weaker, occasionally find another pair to adopt them, but that is rare. As a result, 80% of these baby birds die by fall of their first year. While ornithologists theorize about why this abandonment occurs, there really is no plausible explanation.
The Gray Jay is a prominent bird across the northern United States, throughout Canada, and on up to the Arctic reaches. Campers in the Adirondacks, Green Mountains and White Mountains will probably know this large gray songbird from its attempts to get food wherever it can find it. It is a near permanent resident of campgrounds and is so friendly that it will often take food from your hand, as well as steal it from the picnic table or even inside the tent if given the chance. It's a member of the crow family, and often known by many other names, including Canada Jay, Camp Robber, and Whiskey Jack, which is a corruption of their Indian name Wiss-ka-chion. Their song is a soft whistle.
Their natural habitat is softwood forests, preferring black and white spruce and many kinds of pine. It is thought that the cold weather of the northern regions in which they live helps the food they store on trees not to spoil. In addition to the Northeastern parts of the U.S. and Canada, the Gray Jay extends down from Alaska and Canada into the western portions of the U.S., including Washington State, Arizona and New Mexico.
Gray Jays are a fascinating bird to watch. Unfortunately not everyone gets to see them. If you are fortunate enough to see them, please tell us your story.
Where did you see them? What were they doing? My readers would love to hear your story. It is easy to do just fill in the areas below and you can even add pictures. Once you're finished you will have your very own page published with your name in the title!
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
a whiskey jack landed on my head
I was out camping with my grandpa and uncles, and I was sitting by the fire, when a whiskey jack landed on my head.
I used to be an avid backyard birder, with a variety of feeders and types of birds. I recently hung a feeder where I am staying at this time. Carmel, …
Music in the Night
I heard this loud melodic chirping last morning about 4 am so I went outside to investigate. With flashlight in hand I found a pair of Gray Jays in our …
Mount Hood Gray Jay
HI saw a beautiful gray jay on Mount Hood the other day. It landed on my skateboard and then flew away. It's an amazing sight to see! Comment …
Gray Jay visitors in Eureka, CA this morning
I live on the north coast of California above Humboldt Bay. I was standing in a spot of sun this morning on my deck when 5 gray Jays showed up. When I …
Gray Jay Nesting Oddity Not rated yet
Looking out of my bedroom window one fine morning, I spied a pair of gray jays on the telephone wire outside. Had never seen any of these, although we …
Gray Jay sighted in Corbeil ONTARIO CANADA Not rated yet
Hi there, We have several bird feeders outside our living room window, we heard a lot of Blue Jay squawking, looked out the window and saw one Gray Jay …
And I thought I was special! Not rated yet
We were hiking in Taos, NM... up about 11,500 ft. We stopped to have a snack in a pasture area and within seconds, a pair of Jays flew in close to us. …
Front yard Gray Jay's Not rated yet
Hi I live in the Bronx and we have a family of Gray Jay's living in my front yard tree. They are breeding in this tree and planted their nest. Every …
Gray Jay in Algonquin Park, Ontario Not rated yet
On a hike in Algonquin I stepped off the trail to relieve myself and a Gray Jay landed a few feet in front me on a bush, after about a minute, it flew …
Surprise visit in my neck of the woods! Not rated yet
I live in Southern Ontario and we do not see them very often but this year in March I was fortunate enough to have one visit my feeders. He did not stay …
Camp Robber Hits the Road Not rated yet
On the way to work this morning there was a bird in the left hand turn lane that had been hit by a car. Family members were diving down to it, touching …
Oct 19, 17 02:25 PM
Ran into window at work. Grey body, white head with a crown, white accents long narrow beak. In Texas
Oct 17, 17 07:27 PM
In northeast Kansas, just spotted this one at the feeder. Seems unusual for here. Observed today, Oct 17. Any thoughts on what it is?
Oct 15, 17 06:44 PM
He looks like a cardinal but blue! i have never seen this bird before until this week