Canada Jay - Taiga ssp?

I was just uploading a few sighting of Canada Jays and noticed that when I typed in under species “Canada Jay” I was also given the option of choosing “Taiga Canada Jay Perisoreus canadensis ssp. canadensis” . When I looked at the species account in iNaturalist , 2 of the 3 sightings are only .5 miles from where I regularly bird and record Canada Jay! I haven’t found any info online on this subspecies of Canada Jay. How is this and the nominate species told apart? Should all the Canada Jay sightings I’ve recorded in this area be considered the Taiga subspecies?

There’s no requirement to ID to subspecies - that’s your call as an observer. I’m a little confused by your question. Perisoreus canadensis canadensis is the nominate subspecies, and it’s the widespread interior subspecies of western Canada. Where are you located?

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Canada Jay, or for me I will continue calling them Gray Jays, are an incredibly clinal species, meaning the differences between subspecies gradually change near ssp range overlaps. The Strokes Guide states “Because individuals vary greatly and subspp. are clinal, only broad generalizations can be made on subspecies.” And ranges plus subspecies groups as follows:

Pacific Canada Jay – Darkest and most extensive gray on nape and crown.

pacificus – Alaska and Yukon to northwestern British Columbia
obscurus – Southwestern British Columbia to California (Note: obscurus differs from pacificus with white shafts to back feathers)

Northern Canada Jay – Intermediately gark on the nape and crown. Gray usually meets the eye.

canadensis – Throughout northern and eastern Canada.
bicolor – Southeastern British Columbia to northeastern Oregon and Montana.
albescens – Southeastern Yukon to east-central British Columbia to northeast Wyoming and northwestern Minnesota. (Note: Call be called the intermediate subspecies between Northern Group and capitalis as the group it belongs to is interchangeable.)

Rocky Mountain Canada Jay – Palest and gray nape does not reach the eye. Range – Eastern Idaho to central Colorado.

I’ll get back later, I’m going to see if I can find some description papers on subspecies to see what the “differences” are between subspecies in a group. But more than likely some of these subspecies are not valid.


Really good point on the subspecies for this group being a mess - to illustrate that, authors can’t even agree on their names and boundaries. Birdwhisperer’s list is certainly no less valid than the Clement’s checklist, but the latter differs in which subspecies are covered (it splits several of them he has listed, most notable canadensis).

Probably a good reason to not bother with attempting subspecies ID.

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Alright I got it. Relationships of the Canada Jays in the Northwest (Aldrich 1931) paper talks about describing P. c. connexus, an invalid subspecies that is probably lumped with pacificus. It does give a discussion on identification, so if you want to read that, the link is below. I just caution that these “differences” or field marks are most likely arbitrary. And to help you navigate the article, here’s what the invalid subspecies lumped with.

fumifrons —> pacificus
rathbuni —> obscurus
griseus —> obscurus
connexus —> pacificus

About a year and a half ago, I attended a talk by Dan Strickland, who studies Canada Jays, and is probably the single living person with the most experience observing them. Dan said that despite there being a dozen or so published names, after observing all of them in the wild and examining museum specimens, he believes there are only 3 real subspecies. Aside from the nominate, the only subspecies he considers valid are on the Pacific coast and in the Rocky Mountains.

So, observations in Ontario (or anywhere else in the east) are likely all Perisoreus canadensis ssp. canadensis, but unless you know how to identify the subspecies, I’d recommend staying with species-level IDs.

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My policy is to avoid subspecies IDs unless I’m very certain about them (in my area there are several birds where there is no question as they either look distinctive or there is no overlap in range).

In general, when it comes to subspecies that’s best left to experts on that species, at least in my opinion.

Plus, they keep getting changed, split, lumped together, etc. It’s kind of a messy situation.


Sort of true. The organization that deals with taxonomic decisions is the AOS and they haven’t done subspecies evaluations in fifty years, so very few subspecific changes have been made. But as you said, it’s a messy situation because a lot of described subspecies are probably not valid.

I really hope a taxonomic future presents only 3 (maybe 4) subspecies of Canada Jay. And subspecies range map changes too. I live in northeastern Oregon which is well in bicolor “range” and in the ssp group they are in is suppose to be nominate. So they should look like this…

But yet I got this. :rofl:

Which looks just like the ones I saw in southern Montana.

As another mention of variation, I was looking at photos near my location to see if I was the only one seeing “Rocky Mountain” Canada Jays and I found these photos in Spokane, Washington, taken on the same mountain.

Alright, I’ll leave it at that.

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That’s just for birds, I was referring to subspecies in general (plants, fish, mammals, insects, etc). There is always a constant shuffling of the subspecies designations.

Thanks much for the detailed info on Gray Jay! Now I can be sure that all of the birds I see locally will be the same canadensis ssp. Just to be clear, my life Gray Jay I got up on the Kenai Peninsula in 1971 - a juvenile bird. Would that be pacificus?

I’m in the Adirondacks of NY. Gray Jay is local here.

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