Perisoreus canadensis albescens

Status:  Accidental in winter.

Documentation:  Description: 2-26 Feb 1930 Antioch, Sheridan Co (Swenk 1930).

Taxonomy:  The English name Gray Jay was changed back to the former name Canada Jay by Chesser et al (2018).

The most recent attempt to clarify the controversial and complex subspecies taxonomy of this species was made by Strickland and Ouellet (2020), which we follow here. Three subspecies are restricted to the Pacific Northwest (obscures, griseus, and pacificus). A northern group includes canadensis, nigricapillus, and sanfordi, and a Rocky Mountains group includes capitalis, albescens, and bicolor.

In the northern group, nigricapillus and sanfordi are restricted to eastern Canada, but canadensis occurs from northeast Alaska and Yukon through northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the northeastern USA including northeast Minnesota.

In the Rocky Mountains group, bicolor occurs from southeast British Columbia and southwest Alberta to eastern Washington, central Idaho, and western Montana, capitalis from central Idaho to northern New Mexico and Arizona, and albescens, from northeast British Columbia and northwest Alberta to central Montana, northeast Wyoming, and southwest South Dakota (Black Hills).

Swenk (1930) assumed that the only documented record was of a “Rocky Mountain Jay”, presumably present-day capitalis, but it has been suggested (Phillips 1986) that individuals of albescens, of the South Dakota Black Hills, occasionally occur in northwest Nebraska. Indeed, the description of the bird states that it was “darker on the back and on the top of the head and neck”, which would eliminate capitalis; the latter has a white crown (Pyle 1997).

Winter: In the Black Hills of South Dakota, Gray Jays are common residents above 4000 feet elevation but the species “ranges lower in the non-breeding season” (Tallman et al 2002). Interestingly, four Gray Jays were reported near Edgemont in the southern Black Hills 20 Dec 2014, only about 25 miles from Nebraska.

There are 12 Nebraska reports of Gray Jay, only one of which is supported by documentation. Nine of the reports are north and west of Sheridan and Scotts Bluff Cos, with additional reports from Thomas Co and in the east two in Cuming and Douglas Cos.  All reports are in the period 12 Nov-7 May.

The only documented record is:

2-26 Feb 1930 Antioch, Sheridan Co (Swenk 1930, Bray et al 1986).

Regarding the Antioch Gray Jay, The Editor of Letters of Information, Myron Swenk, related the following: “On February 2 Mr. Keller had a remarkable visitor – a Canada Jay, or rather the western form of that bird known as the Rocky Mountain Jay – which remained over February 3 and 4 and then disappeared until February 26, when it was again seen. Mr. Keller describes the bird as about 12 inches long, a light slate gray, darker on the back and on the top of the head and neck, but very light above the bill for a width of about one fourth of the way to the top of the head, the cheeks and about the throat whitish and the rest of the underparts brownish gray. The tail was rounded.”  This description applies to the subspecies albescens of the Black Hills (see Taxonomy).

None of the remaining 11 reports are accompanied by details sufficient for validity. The two reports from eastern Nebraska were not during invasion years; Iowa has only three records, all in fall of 1979 during an invasion year (Kent and Dinsmore 1996). The remaining nine Nebraska reports are from northern and western Nebraska, including one in Thomas Co, and might have involved birds from either the Black Hills of South Dakota or Rocky Mountains ranges to the west of Nebraska (see Taxonomy). Some, if not all, may have been misidentified Clark’s Nutcrackers (see Sharpe et al 2001).

Literature Cited

Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.

Chesser, R.T., K.J. Burns, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., D.F. Stotz, B.M. Winger, and K. Winker. 2018. Fifty-ninth Supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 135: 798-813.

Kent, T.H., and J.J. Dinsmore. 1996. Birds in Iowa. Publshed by the authors, Iowa City and Ames, Iowa, USA.

Phillips, A.R. 1986. The known birds of North and Middle America. Part 1. Published by the author, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Sharpe, R.S., W.R. Silcock, and J.G. Jorgensen. 2001. The Birds of Nebraska: Their Distribution and Temporal Occurrence.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Strickland, D. and H.R. Ouellet. 2020. Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Swenk, M.H. 1930. Letters of Information 49: 4.

Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020.  Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 28 Mar 2020