Steller’s jay

Steller's Jay

Profile

The Steller’s jay is a large songbird living in western North America. These birds are almost unmistakable because of their blue lower body, gray back, black head, and the black crest on top of their head. The more famous blue jay is in the same family as the Steller’s jay. There are a few other jays in North America besides these two. Another set of markings that make this bird easy to recognize is the blue splotches on its face. The blue here is a brighter blue than is on the rest of the body, except maybe by the base of the tail. Blue jays have much different markings than these birds do, as they have a lot of white on their feathers. Steller’s jays do not have much if any white. Some subspecies have a small amount of white above their eyes. The one pictured above has these markings. Not all birds in this species do though. Both the beak and the legs of this bird are black. The beak shape is slightly different than that of the blue jay as it is longer, narrower, and pointier.

Size

Steller’s jays are the largest jays of North America. The adults have a length of 12 to 13.5 inches (30-34 cm) from beak tip to tail tip, and a wingspan of up to 17.3 inches (44 cm) wide. Females are usually slightly smaller than the males. Steller’s jays, like most birds, do not weigh much for their size. The adults are usually between 3.5 and 5 ounces (100-140 g). Four ounces, about in the middle of this range, is the weight of a stick of butter.

Diet and feeding

Steller’s jays are not picky eaters. They do not really care what they eat as long as it is edible. Their diet includes insects, berries, seeds, nuts, eggs, small rodents, reptiles, and other bird’s nestlings. About two-thirds of their diet is assumed to be made up of plant matter, and the rest is animal matter. The foods listed above can all be found in the wild, but Steller’s jays also eat items from people. This can include garbage, picnic items that have been left alone, and food from bird feeders such as peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds. Some will even steal food from other birds or take handouts directly from people!

Habitat and range

Steller’s jays live in western North America and inhabit Canada, United States, and Mexico. The purple in the map below shows where these birds live. The dark blue dashed line shows the far limits individuals that wander from the range go. As for the habitat these birds live in, they prefer forests, deciduous or evergreen. Steller’s jays also live in city areas that have some trees. They are not deterred by high elevation and will sometimes go relatively high up the mountains.  I have seen these birds before while visiting the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, so they definitely inhabit that area. Steller’s jays are migratory birds, but not in the way you might think. Instead of migrating south in the winter and north in the summer, they inhabit higher elevations on the mountain in the summer and lower elevations in the winter. This accomplishes the same purpose as normal migration (warmer temperatures in the winter), but it does not take as much energy.

Steller's Jay range

Status and threats

The IUCN Redlist rate the Steller’s jay as Least Concern. In some states, such as Washington, the population of these birds has been found to be increasing! There are not a whole lot of natural threats to these animals, but some include hawks, falcons, martens, and raccoons. Some non-natural threats include cats, collision with windows, and pesticides. None of these threats are very prevalent, and because of that, the Steller’s jay is quite common in its range.

Call

Despite being considered songbirds, Steller’s jays have rather harsh calls. Their normal call can be heard in the audio clip below. These birds are also good at imitations. They can mimic many things such as a the cries of raptors, squirrels, dogs, and cats.

Reproduction and young

Steller’s jays keep the same mate for life. I was not able to find the mating season for these birds, but it is most likely in the spring like most other birds. Once a pair is ready to lay their eggs, they work together to find a suitable nesting spot and build the nest. The nest is built to be very durable and is made of mud with roots and thick sticks. The nests are usually made from 10 to 40 feet (3-12 m) above the ground. The female lays 2 to 6 eggs with an average of four. The eggs develop for about 16 days, by which time they are ready to hatch. It is not fully known how long it takes the young to mature, but they are thought to molt at two weeks old and fly for the first time at three weeks. In the wild, Steller’s jays can live up to 16 years.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

Mystery animal

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Steller’s Jay – Noel Reynolds
  • Steller’s Jay range – Paul Lehman
  • Mystery animal – Futureman1199

 

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