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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Gray Jay -- Perisoreus canadensis


RANGE: Breeds from western and central Alaska, northern Mackenzie, and southwestern Keewatin across to northern Quebec and northern Labrador, south to northern California, central Idaho, east-central Arizona, Black Hills of South Dakota, central Saskatchewan, northern Minnesota, southern Ontario, and northern New England. Winters generally throughout the breeding range.

STATUS: Locally common.

HABITAT: Inhabits northern coniferous forests, especially dense spruce and pine. Occasionally occurs in mixed forests and deciduous woodlands near coniferous forests.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Conifer forests.

NEST: Builds nest in late winter while there is still deep snow in the woods, typically in a crotch or on a horizontal branch near the trunk of a conifer, often less than 10 feet but up to 30 feet above the ground. Usually hides well.

FOOD: Regularly catches food, producing a special saliva that helps bind the food together, so it can be firmly held in conifer foliage. Is omnivorous and typically eats insects, conifer seeds, berries, young birds, small mammals, lichens, fungi, and carrion. Commonly steals food from campers.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Forbush and May 1955, Goodwin 1976, Johnsgard 1979, Ouellet 1970, Rutter 1969.


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