Species Profile: Steller’s Jay

As the weather warms and the daylight extends, we being to hear an active chorus of springtime birds. Commonly seen foraging for food around campgrounds and parks, Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are the blue-winged symbol of BC’s healthy evergreen forests, as well as, our provincial bird! They’re known for their unmistakably blue feathers, triangle-crested heads, and their close resemblance to their Blue Jay cousins. They breed primarily in dense coniferous forests, however they’re commonly seen in urban or residential areas and have been spotted in wetlands such as the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta. Even though they’re BC’s provincial bird, Steller’s Jay can be found all the way from Alaska to California and everywhere in-between.

Steller’s Jays have a quirky personality to match their distinct appearance. While feeding on various nuts, berries, seeds, and insects, they use a sac in their throat (called their “crop”) to store extra food for a feast later-on. Moreover, Steller’s Jays are opportunistic and are quick to react to new food resources. They’re omnivorous diet consists of about 2/3 plant matter and 1/3 of animal matter – including small rodents, reptiles and invertebrates. They’re known to watch the nests of smaller birds for the moment when the nest is filled with freshly laid eggs; this is when the Jays will strike the nest and devour the eggs for a cruel, yet, nutritious meal. 

Steller’s Jays form committed long-term relationships and do nearly everything, from building nests to raising young, as a couple. Their nests are made out of tiny sticks that are held together with mud and will hold an average of 3 to 5 eggs. Baby Steller’s are able to fly by the age of 30 days, a phase called “fledging”, and this is about when they are able to find their own food. However – the stellar parents that Stellar Jay’s are – adults continue to feed their young about a month after they have fledged. 

Here’s a few more interesting facts about Steller’s Jays:

  • Steller’s Jay have complex social hierarchies and develop intricate dominance patterns.
  • They are usually found at lower elevations than Gray Jays (Perisoreus canadensis).
  • Their calls are mostly heard outside of the nesting season or when begging for food from people. (A variety of Steller’s calls can be listened to here)
  • Nestlings develop their blue feathers three weeks after they hatch.
  • Steller’s Jays are also known as the Long-crested Jay, Mountain Jay, and Pine Jay.
  • They’re the only crested Jay that is west of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Peanuts are a favourite of Steller’s Jays, so put some in your bird feeders and watch them stuff their “crops”!

If you’ve been inspired to do some birding in this nice weather, a great website to check out is Birding.bc.ca where checklists and tips are provided for various regions in BC. Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@BCWFWetlands) for wetlands-related news – including birding news in BC – and send us your wetland photography through Facebook or Flickr!

One thought on “Species Profile: Steller’s Jay

  1. Nick Rowe

    Just responding to this useful profile on the Steller’s Jay. No birding experience so was intrigued to see a Jay enthusiastically digging a rather large hole in the sand on Mystic Beach on Jan 04. Sand was flying everywhere. Never seen a bird like this forage in sand before. Probably is a normal behaviour looking for grubs I am guessing but if not have got a couple of fotos if anyone is interested. Cheers.

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