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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Steller's Jay


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern


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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Keys to identification Help

Crows and Jays
Crows and Jays
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Steller’s Jays are large songbirds with large heads, chunky bodies, rounded wings, and a long, full tail. The bill is long, straight, and powerful, with a slight hook. Steller’s Jays have a prominent triangular crest that often stands nearly straight up from their head.

  • Color Pattern

    At a distance, Steller’s Jays are very dark jays, lacking the white underparts of most other species. The head is charcoal black and the body is all blue (lightest, almost sparkling, on the wings). White markings above the eye are fairly inconspicuous.

  • Behavior

    Like other jays, Steller’s Jays are bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy. Steller’s Jays spend much of their time exploring the forest canopy, flying with patient wingbeats. They come to the forest floor to investigate visitors and look for food, moving with decisive hops of their long legs.

  • Habitat

    Look for Steller’s Jays in evergreen forests of western North America, at elevations of 3,000-10,000 feet (lower along the Pacific coast). They’re familiar birds of campgrounds, picnic areas, parks, and backyards.

Range Map Help

View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • "Pacific coast" form

    Steller's Jay

    "Pacific coast" form
    • Large, stocky, crow-like songbird
    • Black upper body transitioning to deep, iridescent blue on wings and belly
    • Tall, spiky crest
    • © Bob Gunderson, San Francisco, California, January 2012
  • "Pacific coast" form

    Steller's Jay

    "Pacific coast" form
    • Stocky and long tailed
    • Black head and shoulders, deep blue wings, tail, and belly
    • Pale blue streaks on forehead
    • Obvious spiky crest
    • © Doug Sonerholm, Alaska, September 2012
  • "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form

    Steller's Jay

    "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form
    • Stocky, long-tailed songbird
    • Thick, black nill
    • Dusky gray/black upper body with deep blue on wings, tail, and belly
    • Interior form shows white streaks above eyes and on forehead
    • © Lindell Dillon, Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 2012
  • "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form

    Steller's Jay

    "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form
    • Gregarious and noisy
    • Large and stocky with tall, spiky crest
    • Black head and shoulders, deep blue wings, belly, and tail
    • White markings above eye and on forehead (Interior form only)
    • © Pam Koch/PFW, Flagstaff, Arizona, February 2009
  • "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form

    Steller's Jay

    "Rocky Mountains/Interior" form
    • Often feeds on ground
    • Stocky and long-tailed
    • Black head and shoulders, with iridescent blue on wings and tail
    • © Pam Koch/PFW, Flagstaff, Arizona, November 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Blue Jay

    • Pale gray underparts
    • Pale face with black patterning and collar
    • Blue crest and back
    • Wings and tail blue with white and black markings
    • © Gary Mueller, December 2008
  • Adult

    Western Scrub-Jay

    • No crest
    • Blue crown, nape, wings, and tail
    • White, striped throat
    • Pale gray underparts
    • Grayish or brownish back
    • © lee.karney2, San Francisco, California, February 2007
  • Adult

    Pinyon Jay

    • Pale blue overall
    • No crest
    • Fairly short tail
    • © David F. Smith

Similar Species

Steller's Jays are most similar to the Blue Jay of the East, but there's very little range overlap between these two species. The Steller's Jay's sooty head quickly distinguishes it from the Blue Jay. Western Scrub-Jays and Pinyon Jays often occur in adjacent habitats, but lack the Steller's Jays prominent crest.

Regional Differences

Scientists have described 16 subspecies of the Steller’s Jay in North and Central America, showing varying combinations of black and blue on the crest, head, and body. The Queen Charlotte Islands off British Columbia are home to the largest and darkest race. In mainland North America, you can notice differences between darker Pacific forms, with blue streaks over the eye, and lighter Rocky Mountain forms with white streaks and a partial white eyering.

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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).