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Steller's Jay

Cyanocitta stelleri ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Steller

A large, dark jay of evergreen forests in the mountainous West. Steller’s Jays are common in forest wildernesses but are also fixtures of campgrounds, parklands, and backyards, where they are quick to spy bird feeders as well as unattended picnic items. When patrolling the woods, Steller’s Jays stick to the high canopy, but you’ll hear their harsh, scolding calls if they’re nearby. Graceful and almost lazy in flight, they fly with long swoops on their broad, rounded wings.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
11.8–13.4 in
30–34 cm
Wingspan
17.3 in
44 cm
Weight
3.5–4.9 oz
100–140 g
Relative Size
About the same size as a Western Scrub-Jay
Other Names
  • Geai de Steller (French)
  • Chara Crestada (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Steller's and Blue jays are the only North American jays with crests. The Blue Jay is expanding its range westward. Where they meet, the two species occasionally interbreed and produce hybrids.
  • Steller’s Jays have the dubious honor of being one of the most frequently misspelled names in all of bird watching. Up close, the bird’s dazzling mix of azure and blue is certainly stellar, but that’s not how you spell their name. Steller’s Jays were discovered on an Alaskan island in 1741 by Georg Steller, a naturalist on a Russian explorer’s ship. When a scientist officially described the species, in 1788, they named it after him – along with other discoveries including the Steller’s sea lion and Steller’s Sea-Eagle.
  • The Steller's Jay and the Blue Jay are the only New World jays that use mud to build their nests.
  • The Steller's Jay shows a great deal of variation in appearance throughout its range, with some populations featuring black crests and backs, and others blue. One black-crested form in southern Mexico is surrounded by eight other blue-crested forms.
  • Steller’s Jays are habitual nest-robbers, like many other jay species. They’ve occasionally been seen attacking and killing small adult birds including a Pygmy Nuthatch and a Dark-eyed Junco.
  • An excellent mimic with a large repertoire, the Steller’s Jay can imitate birds, squirrels, cats, dogs, chickens, and some mechanical objects.
  • The oldest recorded Steller’s Jay was 16 years 1 month old.

Habitat


Forest

Steller’s Jays are birds of coniferous and coniferous-deciduous forests. In the southwestern U.S. and Mexico they also live in arid pine-oak woodland. You’ll typically find them at elevations of 3,000-10,000 feet, and lower down in the evergreen forests of the Pacific coastal foothills. During irruptive movements in some winters, flocks may move through unusual habitats such as Sonoran desert.

Food


Omnivore

A generalist forager, Steller’s Jays eat insects, seeds, berries, nuts, small animals, eggs, and nestlings. Around people, they also eat garbage, unguarded picnic items, and feeder fare such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet. With large nuts such as acorns and pinyon pine seeds, Steller’s Jays carry several at a time in their mouth and throat, then bury them one by one as a winter food store. Steller’s Jays are opportunists and will steal food from other birds or look for handouts from people.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1.1–1.4 in
2.7–3.5 cm
Egg Width
0.8–0.9 in
2–2.4 cm
Incubation Period
16 days
Nestling Period
16 days
Egg Description
Bluish-green spotted dark brown, purplish, or olive.
Nest Description

The nest is a bulky cup of stems, leaves, moss, and sticks held together with mud. The inside is lined with pine needles, soft rootlets or animal hair. The finished nest can be 10-17 inches in diameter, 6-7 inches tall, and 2.5-3.5 inches deep on the inside.

Nest Placement

Tree

Both members of the pair choose the nest site, typically a conifer, and both gather nest material. Steller’s Jays put their nests on horizontal branches close to the trunk and often near the top of the tree (though some nests are built much lower, even just above ground level).

Behavior


Ground Forager

Steller’s Jays move around with bold hops of their long legs, both on the ground and among the spokelike main branches of conifers. They pause often to eye their surroundings, cocking their head with sudden movements this way and that. Jays have incredible spatial memories, and Steller’s Jays store surplus food in caches. They also raid the caches of Clark’s Nutcrackers and other jays. Steller’s Jays are common nest predators, stealing both eggs and chicks from the nests of many species. They are very social, traveling in groups, sometimes playing with or chasing each other, or joining mixed-species flocks. One of the most vocal species of mountainous forests, Steller’s Jays keep up a running commentary on events and often instigate mobbing of predators and other possibly dangerous intruders.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Steller's Jay populations remained stable between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2.8 million with 70 percent occurring in the U.S., 9 percent in Canada, and 18 percent in Mexico. This U.S.-Canada Stewardship species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List.

Credits

Range Map Help

Steller
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident. Birds that breed at high elevations may move to lower elevations in winter.

Backyard Tips

To attract Steller’s Jays to your feeders, put out peanuts or other large seeds and nuts as well as suet. If you see jays hogging your feeders and taking large numbers of seeds, they may be carrying some away to store in a cache to help them get through the winter.

Find This Bird

Drive into the mountains, and as soon as an evergreen canopy closes over your head you can start looking for Steller’s Jays or listening for their scratchy, scolding calls. Also keep an eye out around feeders, backyards, picnic tables, and campgrounds, where they are probably already watching you, sizing up their prospects for a handout.

Get Involved

Watch for Steller’s Jays foraging for peanuts and larger seeds at your bird feeders – then send us your observations as part of Project FeederWatch or during the Great Backyard Bird Count each February.

Enhance your yard for jays and other birds. Visit our web pages on feeding and attracting birds.

Learn more about bird photography in our Building Skills section. Then contribute your images to the Birdshare flickr site, which helps supply All About Birds and our other websites with photos.

You Might Also Like

Two Jays, from East and West: Scientists have a lot to learn about these bold birds.

Explore sounds and video of Steller's Jays from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

Find in-depth information on Steller's Jays and all of North America's breeding birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online (Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union).