Steller's Jay Life History

Habitat

Habitat 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

Food

Food 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

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest 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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Behavior

Behavior 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

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernSteller's Jay populations remained relatively stable, showing some local declines, between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2.8 million with 70% occurring in the U.S., 9% in Canada, and 18% in Mexico. Steller's Jay rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species. It is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Back to top

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.

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Credits

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, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 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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