Steller's Jay

Bird of the Month: Steller's Jay

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Stelle'r’s Jay)

PC: Mick Thompson (Stelle'r’s Jay)

Scientific Name: Cyanocitta stelleri

Length 13 in

AOU Band code STJA

The Steller’s Jay (STJA) (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a member of the crow or corvid family and is about 13" long. The genus name Cyanocitta is from the Greek kyanos, blue, and kitta, chattering bird. The species name stelleri is for Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German zoologist, and member of Vitus Bering’s Arctic expedition of 1741, who along the coast of Alaska shot the first of the species known to science. It is one of only two crested jays. Some liken them to "crows in blue suits."

The Steller’s is found in coniferous and pine-oak forests from the Rocky Mountains to the northwest coasts. Its counterpart, the Blue Jay, is found in backyards and wooded lots anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains.  It is often a permanent resident, but may migrate to lower elevations in winter. Sometimes there are large invasions into lowlands when food crops fail in the mountains.

The crest and front of the body is sooty black and grades into a deep blue on the wings, belly, rump and tail. The prominence and color of small streaks on the forehead and marks around the eye varies geographically. Its most common call is a raucous repeated “shaack shaack shaack”. It also has shrill hawk-like calls and is superb at imitating the scream of the Red-tailed Hawk. The only time this bird is certain to be quiet is when it approaches its own nest. This avoids calling attention to its own young.

It eats acorns and other nuts and seeds, insects, berries and fruit, small birds and frogs. It takes table scraps from humans at campsites.

It breeds mostly in mountain coniferous forests and builds a bulky nest of twigs, leaves, mud, lined with rootlets, and grass. During courtship, the male feeds the female. The nest (built by both sexes) is usually 9-30 ft. high in trees, shrubs or sometimes in tree hollows or buildings. There are usually four, sometimes 3-5, blue or pale green eggs spotted with brown. Incubation is 16 days and almost entirely by the female. The young fledge about 18 days later. They have only one brood each season. The young stay with the parents into winter months.