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Steller's Jay Life History


ForestsSteller’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.Back to top


OmnivoreA 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeBoth 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).

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
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.
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Ground ForagerSteller’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.Back to top


Low Concern

Steller's Jay populations have declined approximately 0.5% per year for a cumulative decline of about 34% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 3 million and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Walker, Lauren E., Peter Pyle, Michael A. Patten, Erick Greene, William Davison and Vincent R. Muehter. (2016). Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World