Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the the May 31, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Eastern North America has its Blue Jays and here in the West and in uplands all the way south through Mexico and Central America there are Steller's Jays. At mid-continent where the distributions of the two species meet sometimes birds hybridize, which shows how recently in evolutionary time they shared a common jay ancestor. They're members of the same genus. One of our Steller's Jays, CYANOCITTA STELLERI, is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090531jy.jpg.

If you're an Easterner familiar with the Blue Jay's flamboyant, raucous, nosy, mischievous behavior, you already know what the Steller's Jay is like, though the Steller's alarm call is a harsh, nasal "wah, wah, wah" lacking the Blue's shrillness. Lke the Blue, it issues a variety of calls and imitates hawk squeals when it wants to shoo other birds from feeding areas. They also practice similar diets, including pilfering the occasional egg or nestling from another songbird's nest. To hear the Steller's Jay, click on the orange "listen" icon at the left of the page when you go here.

The Steller's I'm most familiar with are those of the highlands of Mexico so when I got a good look at Oregon's I was surprised to see so much brownness suffused the otherwise black head. In fact, the north's blackish-brown-headed birds gradually become bluer-headed farther south.

from the October 3, 2004 Newsletter, issued from California's Sierra Nevada Foothills:

The black-headed, black-chested, black-backed Steller's Jays here strike me as maybe even a bit more aggressive and outlandish than the East's Blue Jays. When I'm sitting on a log, one may land on the ground ten feet away, call a few times with his hoarse "wahhh," snap up an acorn and fly away.

There's a small boat here filled with water. Jays and other species enter the boat to drink and bathe. If the boat becomes too crowded, the jay suddenly screams its alarm call, flashes its wings and, while the other birds frantically escape into the trees, the jay simply hops onto the boat's side, looks around nonchalantly, and quickly hops back into the boat and continues his ablutions alone.

In a similar vein, it does a fantastic job imitating the call of a soaring hawk. Of course this call unnerves other perching birds nearly as much as the jay's alarm calls, yet it's nothing to see a Steller's Jay calmly sailing from tree to tree issuing its blood- curdling hawk call.

Maybe the sassiest behavior, however, is the species' tendency to land right above me and knock acorns all around me. One even pooped on my shoulder.

Well, with the Creator's obsession for diversity, it's clear that "sassiness" can be considered an option.