(Photo by Jim Merritt)

What you see …

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Jim Merritt got some frequent visits from stellar jays to his backyard bird bath on Laburnum Drive in Trail, recently.

Aside from enjoying peanuts left out for them to snack on, one jay took time to enjoy a quick soak.

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About the Stellar’s Jay:

~ Source: Vancouver Avian Research Centre

Steller’s Jay is British Columbia’s provincial bird.

It ranges from Alaska to Central America and is the western equivalent to its eastern cousin the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). These jays have been reported as far east as San Antonio, Texas. Like its larger relatives the crows and ravens, the Steller’s Jay readily adapted to urban environments. Its most apparent call is the raspy Shiak! Shiak! Shiak!

Identification:

General: Like most other corvids, Steller’s Jays tend to be larger than other passerines with blue plumage. It is however smaller than the Corvus spp. The head can be charcoal black with a prominent crest. Lightest shades of blue are on the wings which are interspersed with darker blue banding. Its bill is long and sturdy with a slight hook. Adults weigh between 100 g to 140 g and measure between 30 cm to 34 cm in length. Wingspan can be 44 cm.

Adult Male: Males are difficult to distinguish from females visually from a distance but tend to be slightly larger. Males in breeding condition could be sexed in-hand for the cloacal protuberance. Audibly, males tend to produce a high-pitched “gleep”.

Adult Female: Females are difficult to distinguish from males visually from a distance but tend to be slightly smaller. Females in breeding condition would have a brood patch. Audibly, females tend to produce a rattling call.

Juvenile: Juveniles are similarly plumaged like the adults, but it would lack the blue vertical “brows” and its head is slightly browner.

Similar Species: The Steller’s Jay is a distinctive bird and is readily distinguished from the Blue Jay. The ranges of both species rarely overlap, but hybrids were reported from the state of Colorado.

Behavior: Steller’s Jay can hop about on the ground or in the trees with their long legs to forage. Their habit of regularly cocking their heads gives an air of inquisitiveness. They sometimes flock up to 10 or more together and are known to beg food from humans with their raspy calls.

Habitat: A common visitor to residential lawns and other urban habitats it is also at home in more naturalized areas. Its natural habitat is coniferous to mixed coniferous forests.

Information:

The Steller’s Jay is named after Georg Wilhelm Steller who was the naturalist and physician during the Russian expedition to North America’s northwest in 1741. Sixteen subspecies are recognized throughout its range. They occur from sea level to 2100 m.

Steller’s Jays are omnivorous. They will forage for fruits, seeds and nuts and are known to steal the food caches of other animals. Small vertebrates, insects and other invertebrates are hunted and jays have even been recorded preying on smaller passerines such as Dark-Eyed juncos and Pygmy Nuthatches. They frequently raid the nests of other birds for eggs and nestlings.

Steller’s Jays like many corvids demonstrate intelligent and opportunistic behavior. They have the ability to mimic the calls of other animals such as chickens and dogs. They are known to use this talent to scare other birds from feeders by imitating the calls of raptors such as the Red-Tailed Hawk. They also often mimic raptor calls to deter other jays from intruding on their territory.

Steller’s Jays are year-round residents in British Columbia and not normally migratory. Birds that live in higher elevations move down slope during winter.

Monogamous pairs typically form long-term bonds. Like the Blue Jay, the Steller’s Jay is the only jay species in the Americas known to use mud in nest construction. The mud is used to bind twigs, moss, leaves and even human trash to form a bulky cup up to 25 cm in diameter. The cup is lined with softer materials such as pine needles and hair. A clutch of 2 – 6 light green-blue eggs with brown, purple or olive speckles are laid. The female incubates the eggs for about 16 -18 days. The brood fledges about 16 days after hatching, but is still sustained by the parents for a month.

Jays will form flocks outside of the breeding season termed a “band”, “cast”, “party” or “scold”.

Conservation Status:

The opportunistic Steller’s Jay expanded its portfolio of habitats and population during the past 20 years as the North American west coast succumbed to urban sprawl and other development. Its reputation as a nest predator would make it a concern for other less adaptable birds.

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