We call Steller’s Jays screeches because that is what they do. There was one, years ago, who would show, bright and early every morning – we did not need an alarm clock. We could hear him land on the metal roof of our cabin and, if we did not get up early enough for his taste, he would begin screeching non-stop until I had taken the table scraps from the night before out to the compost pile for his inspection.
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Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is not the Blue Jay of eastern North America. This member of the Corvidae (Raven family) is a striking bird with deep blue and black plumage and a long, shaggy crest. The front of its body is black, and the rear is deep blue. The black extends midway down its back and down its breast. It has faint, dark barring on its wings. Adults have blue vertical ‘eyebrows’ above each eye. The juvenile appears similar to the adult, but has a slightly browner head and lacks the blue eyebrows of the adult. The inland form has a small white patch over the eye.
The species was first collected by the German naturalist Georg Steller, while working as a doctor on one of Vitus Bering’s expeditions to Alaska.
Somewhat more reticent than the Gray Jay, Steller’s nevertheless quickly becomes accustomed to campsites and human providers. It is often seen sitting quietly in treetops, surveying the surroundings. Near its nest site, it is silent and shy.
The Steller’s Jay is native to western North America is also known as the Long-crested Jay, Mountain Jay, and Pine Jay. It is the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains.
It occurs over virtually the whole of the western side of North America from Alaska in the north to Central America in the far south and east to south-western Texas, completely replacing the Blue Jay in most of those areas. Some hybridization with the Blue Jay in Colorado has been reported. The Steller’s Jay lives in coniferous and mixed woodland, but not in completely dense forest, and requires open space. It typically lives in flocks of greater than 10 individuals. In autumn, flocks often visit oak woods when acorns are ripe.
Like all jays, its calls are numerous and variable. Notably, its alarm call is a harsh nasal “wah”. It also imitates the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, which has the effect of causing other birds to vacate feeding areas at the Steller’s Jay’s approach. Some calls are sex-specific; females produce a rattling sound while males make a high-pitched “gleep”.