[Tweeters] Canada Jay eBird groups in WA

Alan Knue temnurus at gmail.com
Fri Sep 10 13:19:28 PDT 2021

Hello Tweeters,

Things sometimes go full circle. The Canada Jay groups have once again
changed for Washington in the Clements/ eBird taxonomy. Subspecies *bicolor*
is now back in the Rocky Mountains group (*capitalis/bibolor*). These are
the birds that can be seen east of the Okanogan River to Ferry, Stevens,
and Pend Oreile Counties and are also in the SE Blue Mountains. So if you
previously used the Northern group to designate sightings on eBird
checklists in these areas, it is time to manually change them to the Rocky
Mountains group. These jays are characterized by more pure gray tones
(almost a bluish-gray), and are extensively gray on the underparts, and
with the crown mostly white and the dark blackish restricted to the nape.

The Pacific group (obscurus/griseus) has not changed and is present west of
the Methow Valley on both sides of the Cascades, from the Canadian border
to Oregon, including the Pacific lowlands and Olympics. These jays are
smaller than the northern and Rocky Mountains groups, have rather
grayish-brown upperparts with conspicuous white feather shafts on the back,
whitish on the underparts, and have a fairly extensive blackish hood, with
just the forehead white. One interesting twist with the Cascades ssp.
*griseus* is that it is very likely not a good subspecies. In the recent
paper "A bird that changes colour without moulting: how the
wîskicâhk (Canada Jay, *Perisoreus canadensis*) tricked the taxonomists"
by Dan Strickland and Stéphanie M. Doucet (Canadian Journal of Zoology
(2021) 99: 183–195), the researchers found that seasonal color change is
normal in the Pacific group but rare in the northern and Rocky Mountains
groups. The jays in the Pacific group are initially more gray in fresh
plumage but quickly become more brownish as wear occurs and this is true
through the areas where the Pacific group occurs. In fact, Robert Ridgway,
who named the subspecies griseus in 1899 did so based on the comparison of
fresh gray plumaged specimens with brown plumaged older specimens. Had
Ridgway known about the color change, he would not have named this as a new
subspecies. It was this subspecies which was given the official English
common name of Gray Jay in the 4th AOU checklist (1931), back when all
subspecies had official English common names, and it was this name which
was then used as the common name for the entire species, *Perisoreus
canadensis*, until the more recent change to Canada Jay (see How the Canada
Jay lost its name and why it matters by Dan Strickland in Ontario Birds
(2017) 35: 2-16). The Pacific group was originally a separate species,
Oregon Jay *Perisoreus obscurus*, and there is growing evidence that this
was correct (see especially Cryptic genetic diversity and cytonuclear
discordance characterize contact among Canada jay (*Perisoreus **canadensis*)
morphotypes in western North America by Graham et al in Biological Journal
of the Linnean Society, 2021, 132, 725–740), so we may see an official
split of the Canada Jay in the future.

The jays from between the Methow Valley and Okanagan River, including those
from Loup Loup Pass, and in areas I mentioned previously as within the
range of *bicolor*- Long Swamp, Tiffany Springs, and Rogers Lake- may
mostly be integrades. I personally have seen jays from Loup Loup several
times now which have had gray bellies and with a more extensive dark
hind-crown. These birds in fact can look very much like the Northern
*canadensis* group. But I've also seen at least one jay in the same area
that had a fairly extensive white crown and looked closer to *bicolor*.
Integrades also occur north into Canada in a rather narrow zone and all
three groups come together in north-central British Columbia.

The Canada Jay has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw my first on
the shores of Lake Superior back in 1986. It's always a highlight of any
birding outing when I come across them!

Best, Alan

Alan Knue
Edmonds, WA

On Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 6:41 PM Alan Knue <temnurus at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello All,


> During a recent trip to the northern Cascades, I noticed that the wrong

> Canada Jay group was present in the eBird filter for several areas.

> Subspecies bicolor, whose range includes Okanogan (as far west as west of

> Conconully/ east of Winthrop in hotspots such as the Long Swamp, Tiffany

> Springs, and Rogers Lake), Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreile Counties and the

> SE Blue Mountains, is very similar to the Rocky Mountains group

> (capitalis/albescens) in some plumage characteristics, but is classified by

> Clements as part of the Northern canadensis group. I'm fairly certain this

> is based on the 2012 paper (High latitudes and high genetic diversity:

> Phylogeography of a widespread boreal bird, the gray jay (Perisoreus

> canadensis) by Paul van Els, Carla Cicero, and John Klicka, Molecular

> Phylogenetics and Evolution 63, pp 456–465) that shows a "Transcascades"

> group as sister to the Northern group, which combined are sister to a

> southern Rocky Mtn group. Anyway, the filter for those portions of the

> state should be updated accordingly to include the Northern group and

> remove the option for the Rocky Mountains group.


> Additionally, the Pacific group (obscurus), and not the Rocky Mountains

> group, is the correct group for both slopes of the Cascades to the Canadian

> border, so the filter for the eastern Cascades at such places as Rainy and

> Washington Pass also needs to be corrected to the the Pacific group. I

> think some birders were selecting the wrong option because it was the only

> one available in the filter for the area- for example, there is one eBird

> record for Washington Pass that included photos where the jays are clearly

> of the Pacific group. There was also one record from Chelan County entered

> as Rocky Mountains group (without details) that should also be the Pacific

> group.


> I'm not sure if the eBird reviewers in WA monitor this list, but if not,

> if someone knows who I should contact, let me know.


> Best, Alan

> Alan Knue

> Edmonds, WA


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