Sunday, April 19, 2009

In the backyard... Steller's Jay

Steller's JaySteller's Jay, Marion Forks, Linn County, Oregon on 15 June 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Dark blue with a black head and crest, and harsh "shack, shack" calls, this larger jay is a permanent resident in the West. It prefers mixed conifer and deciduous woods, broken conifer forests from coastal promontories to high mountain peaks, residential areas with ample conifer trees, stream edges with occasional conifers, and even nut orchards.

This species is found from southeast Alaska south from the coast to the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains into Mexico and Central America. It is absent from the Great Basin sage flats, extensive grasslands, and deserts.

There are several races, or subspecies--distinctive populations. The form on the Queen Charlotte Islands off of British Columbia is largest and darkest on the face. Most Pacific forms (as shown above) have pale blue streaks on the forehead. Inland birds of the Rocky Mountains may have white streaks on the forehead and a partial white eyering.

Steller's Jays eat seeds, nuts, and small animal matter (insects, grubs, bird eggs and nestlings). To attract jays offer them peanuts. But you might be alarmed as they quickly gulp down all the nuts and sunflower seeds you have to offer and go bury them throughout the neighborhood as a winter cache of food.

You may think the Steller's Jay to be a stellar jay, but it was named after its discoverer, the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746). Steller joined Vitus Bering (think Bering Sea) on Russian voyages of discovery to Alaska, Siberia, and Kamchatka. Other birds named for Steller include Steller's Eider, and Steller's Sea Eagle, along with Steller's Sea Lion and some other plants and animals of the Arctic Ocean of Russia and present-day Alaska (then belonging to Russia).