People passionate about nature

Canada Jay

Above: A Canada Jay perches in early-spring sunshine near Pinawa; photo by Peter Taylor.

How do I recognize it?
The Canada Jay looks like a giant chickadee. Mostly grey (the official name was Gray Jay from 1957 to 2018), the adult’s most distinctive marks are its white forehead, cheeks, and neck.

Does it migrate?
The Canada Jay’s range in the boreal forest is much the same year-round, but some individuals wander a little from October into the winter months. They often visit feeders in winter, especially if suet is provided, and occasionally turn up as far from the forest as Winnipeg and other prairie communities.

Above: Eager to be included in the Christmas Bird Count, this Canada Jay checks out a feeder in a Pinawa yard on Boxing Day 2007; photo by Peter Taylor.

Where does it live?
Canada Jays normally nest in dense spruce forest but can often be seen in other forest types nearby. They occur widely in boreal and subalpine regions across northern and western North America. In Manitoba, their range extends from the outer limits of agriculture to the far north, including the boreal “island” of Riding Mountain but apparently not Spruce Woods.

Above: This Canada Jay was roaming through jack-pine forest off the Rice River road east of Lake Winnipeg in April; photo by Peter Taylor.

Where can I see it?
Perhaps “Where can it see you?” is a better question! Endlessly curious, Canada Jays will often emerge from the forest to check out birders, hikers, and other passers-by on roads and trails. Good localities to see them include Whiteshell, Nopiming, and Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Parks, Agassiz and Sandilands Provincial Forests, and neighbouring regions.

Above:  That beady eye doesn’t miss much—this Canada Jay, in spruce forest near Lac du Bonnet in late February, may have already started nesting; photo by Peter Taylor.

Conservation Status
While overall conservation concern is low, declining numbers at the southern edge of the range may be linked to a combination of climate change and habitat alteration.

Did you know?
Canada Jays nest astonishingly early. They are commonly seen gathering nest material in late February, and the uniformly sooty-grey fledglings are on the wing around the beginning of May. The parents assure a winter food supply by caching meat and fat through their nesting territory.

Above: A juvenile Canada Jay pesters its parents for food at the western edge of Whiteshell Provincial Park in late May; photo by Peter Taylor.