Gray Jay

A gray bird sits on a branch

NPS Photo / Sean Tevebaugh

The gray jay is a year-round resident of the boreal forest. It survives the long cold winters at high latitudes by storing food items throughout the fall. They rely on stored food throughout the winter, when food is scarce. Many animals store or cache food, but the gray jay is unusual in that it stores perishable food that may spoil in warm temperatures and it relies on the caches remaining viable for long periods of time. Gray jays are also special because they begin to nest in March, among the earliest birds in Alaska. They begin laying eggs when there is still snow on the ground and temperatures may plunge to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Growing evidence suggests that the warming climate may be decreasing food available to gray jays in the winter. This is leading to a decline in their ability to raise young. Park biologists are working with partners at the University of Guelph and University of Washington to collect data on this issue. They aim to fill critical gaps in knowledge about gray jays' year-round requirements and examine how a warming climate may impact the persistence of gray jays in Alaska’s boreal forests.
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