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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
Curious, bold, showing no fear of humans, very tame. These words all describe one of my
favorite year round resident birds. Interior Alaskans know when Gray Jays are about. Winter or
summer, these noisy, gregarious, birds seem to know when food is about and they will readily fly
down to take their share. They are considered common in interior Alaska year round although
here in McGrath we see a drop of numbers of birds during the coldest winter months.
Gray Jays are long-tailed and gray in color. Their back and crown is a darker gray in color
which gives their face the appearance of being a light gray. They are in the same family as the
Ravens and the Magpies - some of the smartests birds on earth. Members of this family not only
have a complex vocal communication system but they also have unique social interactions
including the fact they actually play. They are also quite the deductive thinkers. Although we
humans like to think Gray Jays are easily tamed, I have the feeling in reality the Gray Jays are
Gray Jays are generalists within the bird world. They can easily adapt to new situations and
utilize whatever food is available. Their bills are heavy enough to handle just about any size
seed, but it can also be used as a probe and can tear meat. Gray Jays cache their food, which
means they store food while it is plentiful to be used during the long winter months when it is
not. This food caching allows the Gray Jay to begin nesting in the spring long before other birds.
They build their well insulated nest while snow is still covering the ground, and they may even
feed their newly hatched young with food cached the year before.
Look for Gray Jay nests inside large spruce trees right along the trunk. Their cup shaped
nests are well woven of sticks, bark strips, moss, and grass. They are fastened together with
spider silk and insect cocoons, and are lined with feathers, bark strips, grass, and fur. Much of
this building material may have also been cached along side food caches during the previous
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, this is Beverly Skinner.
Gray Jays are also commonly called camp robbers, or Canada jays. One question I have been
asked is why don't more Gray Jays live in town, since they seem to take all the free handouts
they can find when people are out camping. I'm afraid I don't have the answer to that behavior -
but I have to admit, it makes me like them even more because of it.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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