Arrow Lakes News
Anyone with a bird feeder will have noticed Steller’s Jays in their yard. And even if you don’t have a feeder these large dark blue birds are fairly easy to see. Many people incorrectly refer to them as Blue Jays. But true Blue Jays are a much paler blue and have extensive white in their plumage. They are generally restricted to the east side of the Rockies, although their numbers have been increasing in B.C. in recent years. In contrast, Steller’s Jays are found almost exclusively west of the Rocky Mountains.
Jays are members of the same family as the crows and ravens, and therefore have some of the same behaviours. While many people are aware that crows and ravens will rob other birds’ nests of their eggs and young, most do not realize that jays practise this same bad habit! All members of the family are known as omnivorous feeders, that is, they will eat a wide variety of foods including both plant and animal items. At feeders, jays are often seen shoveling seeds into their beaks as fast as they can. It would seem they are picking up more seeds than their mouths can possibly hold. And they are! A special pouch, called a crop, in their throat enables them to pick up and transport large amounts of food. If you watch a jay after it has been at your feeder, you may observe it hiding all that seed somewhere else. Later in the winter, when food normally becomes harder to find, they will dig up their reserves!
Steller’s Jays are usually found in association with coniferous trees. 85 per cent of all known nests in British Columbia are in such trees. Most nests are built in smaller conifers, and located close to the top of the tree, on a branch near the trunk. Almost 70 per cent of the nests are situated between 2 and 5 metres above the ground. Steller’s Jays begin nesting quite early in the year; nests with eggs have been found in early April.
One rather interesting skill possessed by this species is its ability to mimic other birds. We generally just hear a lot of loud raucous sounds coming from jays, but on occasions they will break into a series of complex and varied phrases, made up of sounds copied from other species. At times, their imitations are good enough to fool unsuspecting birders!
In 1987 the Steller’s Jay was declared the official provincial bird of British Columbia. The declaration came following a province wide vote to select a bird in which 80,000 residents cast a vote. Perhaps the voters weren’t aware of this bird’s nest robbing tendencies!