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The Gray Jay is a widespread resident of North America’s boreal and sub-alpine coniferous forests. Occupation of permanent all-purpose territories in such climatically hostile biomes is made possible by this bird’s scatter-hoarding and recovery of seemingly perishable food items fastened in trees under bark scales and lichens with the assistance of copious sticky saliva from enlarged salivary glands.
Gray Jays nest during late winter in cold, snowy, and apparently foodless conditions, with eggs incubated at temperatures as low as -30° C. Second broods or replacement nests are not attempted in the seemingly more favorable May-June breeding period used by other boreal passerines. Once fledged, young stay in the natal territory until early June, when the dominant brood-member expels its siblings. Expelled birds attempt, singly, to join unrelated pairs whose own nesting has failed. Juveniles (dominant and expelled) use their natal or adopted territories as safe havens until a nearby breeding position becomes available. If nonbreeders are still on natal or adopted territories at the commencement of the following breeding season, they are actively prevented from approaching the nest by the adults and therefore do not help to feed nestlings. They may, however, begin to feed young after they have left the nest.
Some evidence indicates that Gray Jays are declining at the southern edge of their range, possibly in response to climate warming and the consequent degradation of the perishable food stores used for late-winter nesting.