The Science Behind Algonquin's Animals - Gray Jay Research in Algonquin Park
  Research Projects Gray Jay Research in Algonquin Park
   
 

 
Common Name Gray Jay
Scientific Name Perisoreus canadensis
Other Names Canada Jay, Whiskeyjack

General Appearance
Gray Jays are characteristic birds of Canada's great north woods and are among the very few that stay with us all year round. Famous for their soft, fluffy plumage, their extreme tameness, and their habit of seeking out humans to look for handouts, they amuse and charm anyone who camps in our country's wild places from coast to coast and in every province and territory. Indeed, the unofficial name, "Whiskeyjack", still used by many bush people today, is a corruption of an Algonquian Indian name, "Wisakajack,"for a mischievous spirit of the forest who liked to play tricks on people. In Algonquin Park, Gray Jays are at the extreme southern limit of their range in eastern Canada. And, since they do not migrate south the way most birds do, it is here in the Park that many people who live in the cities and towns of southern Ontario make their first acquaintance with this famous Canadian bird. The best time to see Gray Jays is in the fall or winter because it is then they are most active in storing food and most likely to seek out people. Excellent places to see them are on the Spruce Bog Boardwalk, at the Algonquin Logging Museum, and along the upper part of the Opeongo Road. If you come at a less appropriate time of year - or are just plain unlucky - you can always check out the Visitor Centre. It has Gray Jays in three separate exhibits.

Watch a video of Gray Jay research in Algonquin Park (Short Version)

Watch a video of Gray Jay research in Algonquin Park (Long Version)

Why Gray Jays are Special
Anyone who has had a wild Gray Jay land on their hand to take some offered food will know that this is a very remarkable bird. But there is much more to it than that. To begin with, most birds have to migrate south every fall-but not the Gray Jay. It survives the long cold winter months by living off thousands of pieces of food it has hidden the summer before behind flakes of bark, under tree lichens, or in any other nook or cranny that won't be covered with snow later on. Before it hides each food item, the Gray Jay coats the food with copious amounts of sticky saliva secreted from its extra-large salivary glands. This helps to make sure that the food remains fastened securely in the hiding place until the Gray Jay returns to find it again many months later. But how, so long afterwards, can a little, 65-75 gram bird ever manage to find the thousands of pieces of hidden food again? Amazingly, there are reasons to believe Gray Jays recover their stored food through memory!

It Pays to Stay at Home
Because Gray Jays depend on stored food for their winter survival, they can't wander far from home. They have to live on permanent year-round territories which, in Algonquin Park, measure about 150 hectares. That is a very large size for a bird as small as a Gray Jay but of course the territory has to produce enough food (insects, spiders, berries, mushrooms, nestling birds and carrion) not just for summer survival but to get the pair through winter as well. It sounds as if Gray Jays might get into trouble if their stored food happened to run out before spring but, at least in Algonquin Park, this never seems to happen. In fact, their store-food-and-stay-at-home strategy allows Gray Jays to avoid the very real dangers of migrating south each fall and back north again each spring. Other birds in Algonquin that have to migrate often have an annual death rate of 40 to 50 percent. That is, almost half of all the songbirds present in one spring will die before another year has passed. Territory-holding Gray Jays, however, have an average death rate of less than 20 percent. This means that individual Gray Jays often live for more than ten years (16 is the record in Algonquin) whereas very few migratory birds make it to their fourth or fifth birthday. What's more, most Gray Jay deaths occur, not in the supposedly foodless winters, but in the summer! The probable reason for this is that migratory, bird-eating hawks such as Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins are present in summer but gone in the winter. Whatever the case, winter is not a particularly dangerous season for Gray Jays and running out of food is clearly not a problem.

How Good is Your memory? Discover the Gray Jay's amazing ability to recall.

A Minor Miracle -- Gray Jays Nest in the Winter!
Perhaps even more astonishing than the Gray Jay's ability to survive long northern winters through the use of stored food is the fact that they actually nest in the winter as well. Every year each pair of Gray Jays builds a new nest, often beginning as early as late February. Eggs are laid in March and the female jay incubates them in the well-insulated nest at a time of year when night-time temperatures may still go as low as 30 below! The eggs hatch in early April and, if all goes well, the young birds leave the nest 23 days later, around the first week of May. The months of March, April, and May may sound like spring to people who live in southern Canada but, up north in Gray Jay country, it is still winter by most standards. Gray Jay babies are being fed in the nest when the lakes are still frozen, snow still lies deep in the forest, and there is no obvious food to be found. Most birds time their nesting season so that the period when they are feeding babies coincides with the period of maximum food abundance-generally late spring or early summer-but that certainly is not true for Gray Jays. By the time the young jays leave the nest in Algonquin Park, 90 percent of the Park's migratory birds have yet to return to their summer range, let alone begin nesting themselves.

A Peculiar Social Life
When nestling Gray Jays leave the nest in early May they are well feathered but look very different from their parents. Instead of the mostly white head and partial black cap of the adults, the juveniles are a uniform, sooty gray all over. They look so different, in fact, that the great pioneering naturalist, Jean-Jacques Audubon, thought they belonged to a new species when he first encountered them back in the 1830s. The young birds begin to moult their body feathers in late July, however, and by the end of August they are almost indistinguishable from the adults.
Long before that, the young jays live through an even more important new development. Although they have grown up very peaceably in the same nest, and continue to huddle together for warmth for several weeks after they leave, in the month of June young Gray Jays begin a deadly serious struggle for dominance. Former broodmates start to chase each other more and more violently and, after just ten days or so, one of the young will have expelled its weaker brothers and sisters from its parents' territory. The winner of this struggle, (a male about two thirds of the time because male jays are usually bigger than females) will continue to live on its parents' territory for two or three years or however long it takes to find a vacancy on a nearby territory and move in to become the new owner. As for the losers of the June struggles, they are forced to leave and find somewhere new to live. About 80 percent of them will fail, and die, by the time fall arrives. The luckier 20 percent will survive by finding, and moving into, another territory where the nesting has failed and there is therefore no dominant juvenile to resist the arrival of an unrelated newcomer. The result of this partial dispersal of young Gray Jays in June is that in the following autumn many pairs (about half of those in Algonquin Park) are accompanied by a third bird. In two thirds of these cases the third bird is the dominant juvenile still with its parents on the territory where it hatched out. In the other cases, the third bird is an "ejectee" from somewhere else that is now living with unrelated adults on a new territory.

Listen to a Gray Jay's call

Are Young Gray Jays Lazy?
The Gray Jay is not the only bird in the world in which nonbreeding youngsters continue to associate closely with territory-holding breeding pairs for one or more years until they finally leave to start breeding on their own. This pattern is also very common in the tropics where, for rather different reasons, most bird species also are spared the need to migrate and they consequently have a low death rate. In such situations, there is almost never any unoccupied land where young birds can set up their own territories so their best option is to stay home with their parents until a vacancy opens up through the death of a nearby breeder. Until that happens, the young nonbreeders usually make the best of a bad situation by helping their parents with their next nesting. This help can take the form of helping to build the nest, feeding the incubating female when she is sitting on the eggs, helping to feed the nestlings after the eggs hatch, helping to defend the nest against predators, and continuing to feed the new young birds after they leave the nest until they can get food on their own. When this behaviour was discovered people wondered why young birds would spend so much energy helping to raise young that they themselves had not produced. A number of answers were soon provided, including the ideas that the nonbreeders were getting practice (so that they would be better parents later on) and that helping to lighten the parents' load was a sort of payment for being allowed to continue occupying their parents' territory. It was also pointed out that the young birds the nonbreeders were helping to raise were usually younger brothers and sisters of the nonbreeders. And, since you are just as closely related to your brothers and sisters as you are to your own young, helping to raise more brothers and sisters is not a bad thing to do when you can't raise young of your own.

Nonbreeding Gray Jays often find themselves in exactly the same situation as nonbreeding tropical birds but, unlike them, they never participate in nest building, they never help to feed the incubating female, and they never help to feed the nestlings. As a matter of fact, they are actually prevented from feeding their little brothers and sisters by their parents who chase them and punish them severely if they ever go near the nest! This behaviour is very mysterious. If helping your parents to feed nestlings is so helpful in tropical birds, why isn't it also advantageous in Gray Jays? If anything, it would seem to more helpful for nonbreeders to feed nestlings in Gray Jays than in tropical birds. After all, Gray Jays nest in terribly cold, snowy, and seemingly foodless conditions where it seems obvious that the parents could use all the help they can get. And, just to make things even more difficult to understand, it was discovered in the 1990s that nonbreeding Gray Jays sometimes actually do help to feed younger brothers and sisters-but only after those younger birds have left the nest. By that time (early May) insects are starting to be available so food is much easier to come by than in the preceding nestling period. Why then, are nonbreeding Gray Jays allowed to help when the help is less needed but prevented when their aid could seemingly make a much more useful contribution?

Gray Jays Are Declining in Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park is well-known among Ontario naturalists as being one of the best and most convenient places to see Gray Jays in the province but it is less certain how long this will be true in the future. Starting in the 1970s, Gray Jays have been slowly declining in Algonquin Park, with one or two territories going vacant almost every year. Originally, we think that virtually all the land along Highway 60 was occupied by Gray Jays but now very little is. The stretch of highway between Smoke Lake and the Hemlock Bluff Trail, for example, once cut through nine different Gray Jay territories but, in 1994, the last of them went vacant. Overall, fewer than half of the territories occupied in the 1970s are still occupied today. The worst losses have been in areas dominated by hardwood forests of Sugar Maple and the least attrition has occurred in boggy, lowland areas covered with Black Spruce.

Research Questions
The preceding description of basic Gray Jay ecology and behaviour in Algonquin Park raises many questions. Some of them have to do with understanding how Gray Jays succeed in doing something that no other birds can do, namely living year round on permanent territories in Canada's great boreal forests. Other questions are important challenges to our modern understanding of evolutionary biology and answering them may make significant contributions to this general field of knowledge. Here are a few of the main questions:

1. How do Gray Jays recover their stored food?

There would be no point in devoting so much effort to storing food if the jays did not succeed in recovering much of it. Also, the very fact that the jays survive winter so well, when almost all other small birds are forced to migrate south, would seem to be a strong indication that the jays really do find many of their food caches. But how? Is it by random search, by a keen sense of smell, by memory, or perhaps some way we haven't even thought of yet?

A number of observations suggest that Gray Jays recover their stored food by remembering where they have hidden it. A laboratory study carried out in Colorado indicated that Gray Jays have at least a short-term memory of where they have hidden food and observations of wild birds in Algonquin Park support this. For one thing, Gray Jays do not spend the short winter days energetically looking for food the way, say, chickadees do. Instead, Gray Jays, are surprisingly inactive in very cold weather, often spending long periods quietly sitting with fluffed-up plumage in sunny, sheltered locations. And, when they do find food, they often fly ten or twenty metres to another tree, land and immediately retrieve some tidbit from under a piece of bark. No searching seems to be involved; instead the jay gives the impression that it must have known that the food was there all along and that it merely went and retrieved the food when it felt hungry enough to do so. Smell can probably be ruled out because it is not well-developed in birds like the Gray Jay and a study using radioactively marked food with the closely related Siberian Jay showed that particular pieces of hidden food are recovered by the individual jays that hid those pieces. (If smell were important, any individual jay could find the food hidden by any other individual jay). Another indication of the importance of memory comes from the behaviour of juvenile birds at the time of the June dispersal (see the suggested answer to Question No. 4 below).

2. How can food stored in the summertime be of benefit to jays the following winter?

The whole point of storing food is to take some of the food supply from the times when it is abundant and make it available when it would normally be lacking. Gray Jays appear to be doing this by storing actively in the summer and fall and then drawing on the food stores in winter. But most of the food stored by Gray Jays is perishable -- insects, berries, little pieces of meat or mushrooms. It is easy to see that cold temperatures would go a long way towards preserving any stored food present at the beginning of winter but won't food stored in the summer be attacked and destroyed by bacteria and fungi long before cold temperatures arrive to save it? Assuming that summer-stored food does last in sufficient quantities to benefit Gray Jays the following winter, what could be responsible? Could Gray Jay saliva have some sort of preservative effect? Maybe at the south end of Gray Jay range, only food stored in the fall lasts in any usable form till the onset of winter whereas, farther north, cooler summer temperatures ensure that earlier-stored food is degraded more slowly and therefore lasts longer? Perhaps the hiding places chosen by the jays are well shaded and take longer to warm up in the daytime? Or perhaps the trees in which Gray Jays store their food have some sort of antibacterial effect and allow the stored food to last for longer periods in warm weather than would otherwise be the case?

This is an intriguing question that cannot be fully answered with the information we have at the moment. All we can say is that the food must survive reasonably well because Gray Jays do depend on stored food and they have such a remarkably low winter death rate. One reasonable guess, that Gray Jay saliva might have a preservative effect, was not supported by early experiments carried out by Dr. Gavin Clark of the University of Toronto in the 1970s. Another interesting possibility yet to be investigated is that food stored in spruce trees lasts longer than the same food stored in other trees. The reason for thinking this is that the southern edge of Gray Jay range often coincides with the southern boundary of spruce trees. Also, spruce trees have very high concentrations of resins that kill bacteria. Could it be that these resins permeate into pieces of otherwise perishable food hidden under flakes of spruce bark and slow down bacterial decay? Perhaps food hidden by Gray Jays survives through a combination of short cool summers and the effect of spruce resin until the deep-freeze of winter sets in and ensures that stored food cannot spoil any further.

3. Why do Gray Jays nest so early?

Most birds time their nesting so that the time of maximum nutritional requirements by their nestlings will coincide with the period of maximum production of food in the environment. In Algonquin Park, for most species of birds, this means the month of June, the time of year when protein-rich insects are most plentiful. Any individual birds that nested at some other time of year would produce fewer young and therefore leave fewer descendants than the June nesters. And, assuming the timing of nesting is hereditary, this effect would be multiplied over and over again with each passing generation. That is why June nesters have long since become the only surviving lineages of most Algonquin bird species. But Gray Jays nest two and a half months earlier than that, even though they feed their young the same kinds of food (mostly insects and spiders) used by the June nesters. Can we really believe that, way back when, winter-nesting Gray Jays out-reproduced individuals that had a tendency to nest later in the season? But how else could early nesting evolve? Even more perplexing, many species of birds nest twice or even three times in a season. Gray Jays, however, only nest once, even though, by nesting a second time, they would be nesting at the very same time successfully chosen by almost every other forest bird in Algonquin? Again, can we really believe that Gray Jays that nested twice were outreproduced in the past by ones that nested only once, in late winter?

The use of stored food, especially in emergency situations such as late winter snowstorms probably explains how Gray Jays can get away with nesting so early but it does nothing to tell us how such early nesting could be actually advantageous and why it therefore evolved. Nor does it tell us why Gray Jays never attempt to nest a second time, later in the season. There may, in fact, be several answers to why Gray Jays nest in late winter. First, young jays produced in an early nesting have more time to perfect storage and other skills before the onset of their first winter. Second, early nesting may allow Gray Jays to be largely finished with their nesting before the return of migratory predators like Sharp-shinned Hawks or before naïve young Red Squirrels, born the summer before, manage to learn that birds' nests sometimes contain vulnerable baby birds.

Third, by nesting early, the adult Gray Jays (and the one juvenile that will stay with its parents) can invest much more food storage effort in the territory before winter arrives than could a late-nesting pair. Provided food stored early in the summer survives until cold weather sets in (see answer to Question No. 2) early nesting birds will therefore enter the winter with much more stored food on their territory than late-nesters would. This could be critical in allowing Gray Jays to have enough stored food to last the winter (especially in the far north where the food storage season is very short and winters are correspondingly longer). By having enough food to survive the winter, Gray Jays avoid the dangers of migration and, as we saw earlier, have extremely long lives. Thus, even if Gray Jays produce fewer young by nesting so early (and by not re-nesting), early nesting may still be the winning strategy because it allows Gray Jays to maximize their winter food stores, to avoid migration, and consequently to live longer and breed more often, producing a greater number of young in their lifetimes than migratory late-nesters would.

4. Why do Dominant Juvenile Gray Jays Expel their Weaker Brothers and Sisters from the Natal Territory?

The fighting that precedes the partial June dispersal of young Gray Jays is very intense, and it's easy to see why. About 80 percent of the "ejectees" who are forced to leave die before their first autumn as a result. By contrast, the first-summer death rate is only about 50 percent in the dominant juveniles who win the June struggles and therefore get to stay on the natal territory and benefit from the protection and "instruction" of their parents. But why do the dominant juveniles in effect kill so many of their brothers and sisters? Remember that brothers and sisters are just as closely related to each other as parents and offspring are. One would never expect a line of organisms to evolve in which parents regularly killed their offspring so how is it that the equivalent behaviour is normal in dominant juvenile Gray Jays? Can we really believe that young Gray Jays that cause the death of their siblings will leave more copies of their genes in succeeding generations than juveniles who let their siblings stay and prosper in the family group?

This strange behaviour may be understandable if juvenile Gray Jays are not skilled enough to store enough food for their own first-winter needs and have to rely on a parental subsidy. Suppose, also, that the subsidy is large enough to get one juvenile through its first winter but is not necessarily sufficient for a second or third young bird. If you were a juvenile Gray Jay in such circumstances, it would pay you to get rid of your brothers and sisters so that you had exclusive access to the critical food subsidy--because your own survival is more valuable to you than that of your siblings. But can a young Gray Jay get rid of the competition so easily? The critical factor may be the way Gray Jays recover stored food, including the food making up the postulated parental subsidy. If Gray Jays recover stored food by random search or by smelling it, for example, it is difficult to see how the dominant juvenile could enforce a meaningful expulsion. To be sure, a dominant juvenile could keep subordinates from continuing to accompany the family group but this would not stop them from sneaking around elsewhere in the family territory. Nor would it keep them from blundering onto, or smelling, food that had been stored by themselves or their parents. In other words, being forced out of the family group would not stop subordinate Gray Jays from having access to the parental subsidy on their natal territory or, for that matter, to stored food on neighbouring territories as well.

But suppose that Gray Jays recover stored food by memory. The memory of a parental subsidy's locations could be acquired through watching where the adults hid stored food or through the act of pilfering newly made stores and then rehiding them somewhere else. Whichever way it was, if you were a juvenile Gray Jay, you really could prevent your brothers and sisters from having access to the parental food subsidy. All you would have to do would be to prevent your brothers and sisters from watching your parents hide food. As for the subordinates, there would be no point in continuing to sneak around the parental territory. The best course of action for them would be to strike off, each one independently, to find an unrelated pair with no dominant juvenile of their own. By following such a pair around and gradually gaining some degree of tolerance from them, a subordinate would be able to watch them hide food and, in effect, gain access to a subsidy of stored food that would allow it to make it through its first winter.

What we see in the real world is that dominant juveniles force their weaker brothers and sisters out of the family group in June and that the ejectees immediately leave and try to find an unrelated pair who will accept them. This behaviour is consistent with the idea that the young birds are fighting over a parental subsidy and with the idea that food is recovered by memory (not by random search or by smell). It also strongly suggests that food stored even as early as June must survive the rest of the summer and still retain enough nutritive value to benefit a Gray Jay who finds it the following winter. (It would be of doubtful value to expel one's siblings in June and thereby consign them to a high probability of death unless food stored that early was actually going to be of use later on).

5. Why are any Nonbreeding Gray Jays still present on the Territory during the following Nesting Season Prevented from Feeding Nestlings but Allowed to Feed Fledglings?

As described above, breeding pairs of many species of birds are regularly accompanied in the nesting season by nonbreeders, usually their own young from the previous year who have been unable to acquire a territory of their own. Normally these extra birds assist their parents in raising more young than the parents could do by themselves so all the parties benefit. In Gray Jays, however, nonbreeders are often still associating with breeding pairs in the nesting season but they are never allowed to feed the young until those young are out of the nest. Given that the feeding of nestlings by nonbreeders is so normal and apparently beneficial in tropical birds, why is this behaviour prevented in Gray Jays? Of all bird species, wouldn't the winter-nesting Gray Jay especially benefit from having extra birds looking for food and bringing it to nestlings? And why do Gray Jay parents then turn around and permit the nonbreeders to feed the young when the young have left the nest?

The answer to the first part of this question appears to be that the adult, breeding Gray Jays are doing everything in their power to avoid giving away the location of their nest to some predator. They do at least two things to accomplish this. First, they prevent any nonbreeding extra who may still be on the territory (even if it is their own young from the year before) from making superfluous, nutritionally unnecessary trips to the nest. Second, even when they are the only jays on the territory, they minimize the feeding visits they make to the nest by maximizing the amount of food they bring each time. That is, they bring a small number of big loads rather than a large number of small ones.

After the young leave the nest, the adults continue to feed them for several more weeks but they relax their previous tendency to minimize feeding visit frequency and they no longer prevent any nonbreeder from going to the fledglings and feeding them. The reason for this may be that the predator the Gray Jays were trying to avoid in the nestling period is no longer a threat when the young leave the nest. The predator that best meets this description is the Red Squirrel. It is a very serious predator on nestling birds but of course it cannot fly and it therefore poses little threat to fledgling Gray Jays. Thus, in the fledgling period, adult Gray Jays can afford to permit a nonbreeding jay to feed the babies if it is motivated to do so. They themselves can also afford to visit the young more often with smaller amounts of food.

6. Why are Gray Jays Declining?

Could increased traffic on Highway 60 be responsible? Could it be because bird-eating hawks like Merlins have made a comeback in Algonquin in recent years? Maybe the West Nile Virus is responsible since we know that members of the jay and crow family are especially susceptible. Or could global warming be involved in the Gray Jay decline? If so, how?

Increased highway traffic is not responsible for the Algonquin Gray Jay decline because the same decline is being observed on territories far away from the highway as well. West Nile Virus is not the answer either since the decline started well before the virus arrived in North America. Nor can the return of Merlins to the Park be responsible because, if it were, one would expect that vacancies and re-occupations of Gray Jay territories would occur more or less randomly. Instead, the decline started earliest and has been most complete on territories dominated by deciduous, hardwood forests. It has been somewhat less serious in upland mixed forests of White Spruce, Balsam Fir, White Birch, Trembling Aspen and White Pine, and least pronounced in lowland boggy forests of Black Spruce.

The Algonquin Gray Jay study's working hypothesis is that climate warming is responsible for the decline. We know that Gray Jays depend on stored food for their winter survival and that they also use this food, at least to some extent, to feed nestlings. As global temperatures rise, we can expect that insects, berries, pieces of meat or mushrooms stored by Gray Jays will spoil more rapidly. This will occur even in the winter and may be especially serious when repeated freeze-thaw events accelerate the degradation of perishable food. The cumulative effect of such warming may be that early-nesting Gray Jays have less stored food to feed their nestlings than in the past and fewer young jays are produced as a result. Then, as the older jays die off at the normal rate, but with fewer young jays to take their places, the Gray Jay population inevitably declines, especially at the comparatively warm, very southern edge of the species' range, namely in Algonquin Park. Preliminary analysis suggests that the Algonquin decline has indeed been accompanied by a falling production of juveniles and that the worst production follows the warmest autumns. The fact that the decline has been least pronounced in territories dominated by Black Spruce may be support for the idea that food stored under spruce bark spoils less rapidly than food stored in other tree species (see answer to Question No. 2 above).

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How Gray Jay Research is Carried Out in Algonquin Park
Gray Jay research in Algonquin Park began back in the 1960s. The late Russell J. Rutter (1899-1976), a well-known Ontario naturalist, was working in the Park at the time and became intrigued by the Gray Jays he regularly saw around the old Park Museum (at km 20 on Highway 60). He decided to use a new technique called colour-banding to identify individual Gray Jays and see what he could learn of the Gray Jay's then almost completely unknown ecology and nesting behaviour. Catching the jays was easily done with a baited, walk-in trap whose door closed when the jays stepped on a simple release mechanism. Every jay was given its own unique combination of coloured plastic and standard aluminum bands and promptly released. From then on it could be recognized as an individual, and given a name, according to its band combination. Two of Russ's early birds, for example, were WRSL (pronounced "whirr-zil", from the band combination "White Right, Standard Left") and YORLSR (pronounced "yorl-zer" from the combination "Yellow Over Red Left, Standard Right"). With the use of this one simple technique, and many hours of follow-up observations of course, Russ was able to begin the long process of sorting out the basic biology of Gray Jays. He was the first to determine that Gray Jays lived on permanent territories, that they lived for a very long time, and that they tended to nest in the same general area, year after year.

Later, the Algonquin Gray Jay study was taken over by Dan Strickland. Dan had been a summer naturalist in the 1960s when Russ first began studying Gray Jays and was inspired by that work to undertake a study in Quebec's Parc de la Vérendrye for his M.Sc. at the University of Montreal. Dan joined the Algonquin Park permanent staff in 1970 and, when Russ Rutter died in 1976, Dan started using weekends and holiday time to continue Russ' observations and to expand the study. Since the early 1980s Dan and volunteer helpers have been finding about 20 nests each year, banding the young, and following the fortunes of adults and young alike. Since Dan's retirement in 2000, he has been able to devote even more time to the study, now one of the longest-running studies of a marked population of vertebrates anywhere in the world. Recently, Dan has been collaborating with Thomas A. Waite of The Ohio State University at Columbus; Tom has been using the marked Algonquin jay population for his own experiments on food storage choice decisions. Dan also encouraged the initiation of studies of the two Old World relatives of the Gray Jay, namely the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) in northern Sweden and the Sichuan Jay (Perisoreus internigrans) in central China.

For Further Reading
We hope you have enjoyed learning some of the results of research carried out in Algonquin Park on the Gray Jay, one of the north woods' most famous and charateristic birds. For further reading about Algonquin Park, Gray Jay research, you may wish to consult the following technical and popular sources:


  • Addison, E.M., Strickland, R.D., and Fraser, D.J.H. 1989. Gray Jays, Perisoreus canadensis and Common Ravens, Corvus corax, as predators of winter ticks, Dermacentor albipictus. Can. Field-Nat. 103: 406-408.

  • Rutter, R.J. 1967. Notes on the Gray Jay (Perisoreus candensis) from Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Ontario Bird Banding 3: 11-15.

  • Rutter, R.J. 1969. A contribution to the biology of the Gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis). Can. Field-Nat. 83: 300-316.

  • Rutter, R.J. 1970. Gray Jays accept transfer to a different nest in a new location. Bird-banding 41: 130-131.

  • Rutter, R.J. 1972. The Gray Jay: a bird for all seasons. Nature Canada 1: 29-32.

  • Strickland, D. 1991. Juvenile dispersal in Gray Jays: dominant brood member expels siblings from natal territory. Can. J. Zool. 69: 2935-2945.

  • Strickland. D. 1992. Finding (and Watching) Gray Jays in Algonquin Park. Ontario Birds, 10: 1-10.

  • Strickland, D. and Ouellet, H. 1993. Gray Jay In The Birds of North America, No. 40. (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, eds.) Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences, Washington, D. C.; The American Ornithologists' Union.

  • Strickland, D. and Waite, T. A. 2001. Does initial suppression of allofeeding in small jays help to conceal their nests? Can. J. Zool. 79: 2128-2146.

  • Strickland, D. 2002. Ontario Gray Jays Help on the World Stage: Part 1. Ontario Birds, 20: 130-138.

  • Strickland, D. 2003. Ontario Gray Jays Help on the World Stage: Part 2. Ontario Birds, 21: 15-22.

  • Strickland, D. 2007. Gray Jay, pp. 376-377 in Cadman, M.D., D.A. Sutherland, G.G. Beck, D. Lepage, and A.R. Couturier, eds. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, Toronto, xxii + 706 pp.

  • Waite, T.A., and Strickland, D. 1997. Cooperative breeding in Gray Jays: philopatric offspring provision juvenile siblings. Condor 99: 523-525.

  • Waite, T.A. and Strickland, D. 2006. Climate change and the demographic demise of a hoarding bird living at the edge. Proc. R. Soc. B 273: 2809-2813.



Suggested Reading
Educators: Learn more about Algonquin’s habitats, download readings and worksheets from the Educator Resources section of the Web Site, or you may also learn more through the following publications:

Birds of Algonquin Provincial Park
Many visitors to Algonquin Park are unaware that it offers a unique opportunity for seeing and hearing the birds of Ontario. This book will introduce you to the main habitats of the Park and to many of the common species, 77 in all. Through colour photographs and short accounts we hope to encourage you to discover and enjoy them for yourself.


more info

Checklist and Seasonal Status of the Birds of Algonquin Provincial Park
Newly revised 2004 edition. This publication features a list of all of the bird species that have been recorded within Algonquin Park, as well as their status (e.g. common, uncommon, rare) and the time of year when they are normally found. There is also information on specific sites to go birding and to find some of Algonquin's specialties.


more info



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