Photo: Rob Curtis/Vireo

Steller's Jay

Cyanocitta stelleri

A common bird of western forests. Steller's Jay is most numerous in dense coniferous woods of the mountains and the northwest coast, where its dark colors blend in well in the shadows. Except when nesting it lives in flocks, and the birds will often fly across a clearing one at a time, in single file, giving their low shook-shook calls as they swoop up to perch in a tall pine.
Conservation status Still widespread and common.
Family Crows, Magpies, Jays
Habitat Conifer and pine-oak forests. Most numerous as a breeder in the mountains and along the northern coast in forests of pine, spruce, and fir; also lives in pine-oak forest, and locally in riverside groves of oaks and other deciduous trees. Especially when not nesting, will range into other woodland types, orchards, and well-wooded suburbs.
A common bird of western forests. Steller's Jay is most numerous in dense coniferous woods of the mountains and the northwest coast, where its dark colors blend in well in the shadows. Except when nesting it lives in flocks, and the birds will often fly across a clearing one at a time, in single file, giving their low shook-shook calls as they swoop up to perch in a tall pine.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Pacific NW
  • adult, Southwestern
  • immature, Southwestern
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly high in trees but also low or on ground. Opens hard seeds and acorns by pounding on them with bill.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-5, rarely 2-6. Pale blue-green, finely spotted with brown or olive. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 16-18 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight not well known, about 3 weeks.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight not well known, about 3 weeks.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet is about two-thirds vegetable and one-third animal matter. Feeds heavily on pine seeds, acorns, and other nuts and seeds, especially during fall and winter; also eats many berries and wild fruits, sometimes cultivated fruit. Especially in summer, eats many insects, including beetles, wasps, and wild bees. Also eats spiders, birds' eggs, table scraps, sometimes small rodents or lizards.


Nesting

In courtship, male feeds female. Adults are quiet and secretive while nesting, but become noisy and aggressive if nest is threatened. Nest site is in tree, usually coniferous; sometimes in deciduous tree or shrub. Height varies, usually 10-30' above the ground, sometimes lower or much higher. Nest (built by both sexes) is a bulky ragged cup of twigs, weeds, moss, dry leaves, cemented together with mud and lined with fine grass, rootlets, and pine needles. Bits of paper often added to nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Often a permanent resident, but may move to lower elevations in winter. Occasionally stages large invasions into lowlands, perhaps when food crops fail in the mountains.

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Migration

Often a permanent resident, but may move to lower elevations in winter. Occasionally stages large invasions into lowlands, perhaps when food crops fail in the mountains.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A harsh shack-shack-shack-shack or chook-chook-chook call reveals its presence. May also mimic the screams of hawks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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