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Bird Habitat Conservation Toolkit

Image of Bird
Also known as a Whiskeyjack, the Gray Jay is an iconic Canadian species known for its low fear of humans. It is also an important nest predator in the boreal forest and may pose a threat to at-risk songbirds.

Gray Jay

(Perisoreus canadensis)
Overview
status
AlbertaSecure
British ColumbiaYellow
Primary Habitat
Old Coniferous
Nest Type
Canopy (Conifer)
Territory Size
15–65 ha (up to 130 ha)
Nest Reuse
No
Breeding Window
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
Apr
May
Jun
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Peak: early April to mid-June
Stand-Level
Thinning, selection cutting, or large patches (2–5 ha) of dominant conifer species.
Landscape-Level
Attracted to fragmented landscapes and forest within 30 m of edge.

Habitat Ecology

  • Gray Jays are mainly found in coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, particularly spruce-leading stands. They are also abundant in black spruce and jack pine stands (Saskatchewan),1 Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce above 100m elevation (southern BC),2 open and semi-open woodlands, and near bogs.3 
  • There is some evidence of higher Gray Jay abundances at the boundaries between coniferous and deciduous forests.4
  • This species is widespread across coniferous-leading forests including disturbed and fragmented areas. It is most common in old forests and is also found in burned stands containing snags.5
  • The Gray Jay nests during late winter (beginning mid-March) and may be vulnerable to incidental take during winter logging.2

Response to Forest Management

  • Gray Jays are rare or absent in large clear-cuts because they need trees for nesting and food caching.2
  • Retention harvests with up to ~22% forest cover in 2–5 ha patches and riparian buffers supported fewer Gray Jays than unharvested forest, but substantially more than in clear-cuts.6
  • This species has responded positively to thinning in Douglas-fir forests (~60% stem density removal)7 and selection cutting with 60–70% retention in lodgepole pine forests.8
  • In Quebec, responses to forest edge in balsam fir forests suggest that heavily fragmented forest may provide high-value habitat for 20–30 years post-disturbance.9

Stand-level Recommendations

  • High-intensity thinning and low-intensity selection cutting appear to benefit this species.7,9
  • Retention harvesting is recommended over clear-cutting, leaving large retention patches containing coniferous trees for nesting and food caching.6

Landscape-level Recommendations

  • Fragmented landscapes may attract Gray Jays, particularly to forest within 30 m of disturbance edges. This attraction may have unintended negative effects on nesting songbirds in the same area as Gray Jays are an important nest predator.9 
  • While this species will benefit from old coniferous stands (set-asides, remnants, etc.) on the landscape, its tolerance of harvesting other than clear-cutting suggests it is likely to be resilient to many landscapes managed under NRV and using harvest systems including retention, selection cutting, and thinning. It is also highly likely to benefit from old black spruce and tamarack forests, which may be well-represented on the passive land base.10

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