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What is a Steller's Jay?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The Steller's jay is a blue- and black-colored bird native to North America and a close relation to the blue jay. It is primarily found in the western part of the continent, with habitats as far north as Alaska and as far south as Central America. Named after the botanist Georg Wilhelm Steller, the Steller's jay is also known as a pine jay, a long-crested jay, a mountain jay, or by its Latin name, Cyanocitta stelleri.

All Steller's jays boast vibrant blue and black plumage and bushy crests. The exact shades of these types of birds vary in different geographical areas. For instance, birds in northern climes have brown or black heads, while further south their heads take on a more bluish hue. They display blue markings on their foreheads, and their coloring grows gradually bluer from the breast to the tail. Most have virtually unnoticeable white markings above the eyes.

At quick glance, a Steller's jay could easily be mistaken for a blue jay. On closer inspection, however, the difference between the two birds becomes apparent. The legs of a Steller's jay are noticeably longer than that of the blue jay. Its bill is much longer, thinner, and more powerful, with a small hook at the end. Steller's jays also possess more pronounced crests than blue jays.

The temperament and behavior of the Steller's jay is similar to that of other jays. They fly in single-file flocks and are not afraid to beg for food in outdoor areas where people gather. When not in the nesting season, they can be quite vociferous birds, but when tending to their hatchlings or stealing from other birds, as they are inclined to do, Steller's jays are typically crafty and quiet. They conduct themselves according to a complicated social pecking order, which contains defined positions of dominance and submission.

Steller's jays are monogamous birds who mate for life. Both parents work together to build the nest, which is comprised of weeds, sticks, leaves, and mud. They take turns feeding the hatchlings, and both parents continue providing food for approximately one month after the young birds strike out on their own and learn to fly.

An omnivorous bird, the Steller's jay's diet consists of two-thirds plant-derived food and one-third animal-derived. In addition to fruits, nuts, and berries, they also consume rodents and reptiles, as well as the remains of other animals. Steller's jays are notorious for stealing and eating the eggs and young of other species.

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