Bird Lore: Steller’s Jay

Photo by LeRoy Van Hee
Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

The Steller’s Jay is a persistent pilferer of peanuts. This all-American jay is a chow hound for our all-American nut. Whole peanuts, shelled or unshelled, peanut butter, smooth or chunky, bits of peanuts, organic or conventional. If you enjoy the antics of our local jay, put some form of peanut feeder in your yard and watch the show.

A common bird of western forests and well-wooded suburbs, the Steller’s Jay is a social species. It lives in flocks except during nesting season. The Steller’s Jay is a darker-hued bird than its Eastern counterpart, the Blue Jay. Its darker plumage allows it to blend in with the shadows of the dense conifer woods of the Northwest. It often remains high in the canopy where it is difficult to detect. When seen in wooded areas, a flock will cross a clearing one bird at a time.

The Steller’s Jay is nonmigratory across its range. However, those that breed at higher elevations often descend to the lowlands for winter, where they can be seen in much more open habitats such as orchards, campgrounds, and suburbs. This bird is an omnivore. Not only does it feed on nuts, seeds, and suet, it will also eat the eggs and young of other forest birds.

Nests are built, usually in conifer trees, 10 to 30 feet above ground. Both members of the pair construct a bulky cup of twigs, weeds, dry leaves and moss, cemented with mud. It is lined with fine grass, pine needles, and even bits of paper. There are usually four eggs, incubated by the female for about two-and-a-half weeks. Both parents feed the nestlings, which probably leave the nest after about three weeks.

The Steller’s Jay has a varied repertoire of vocalizations. One of its more common calls is a braying scream, raaah! You can listen to it at this link.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

  1. I finally understand why I keep finding peanuts in my yard. Crazy birds. (I have a pair of these who like to hang around.)

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