Friday, January 31, 2014

Steller’s Jay

In the predawn light of New Year’s Day, 2014, this Steller’s Jay looked strikingly blue, reflecting the blue sky above Summerhaven, Arizona.

Summerhaven is at 8200 feet of elevation, so it gets cold. Cold enough to snow, even in Arizona, but this was a clear blue-sky morning.

The Steller’s Jay is comfortable at the snow line. This is where he finds his food.  If he finds more than he can eat, he slyly stashes some under the snow when out of sight of the other birds.  He uses great care to conceal this tactic.  Fortunately for him, he has the remarkable ability to remember his hundreds of food caches.

Despite squabbles and a mistrusting nature, they are social birds. Traveling in small groups, they keep an eye on one another while foraging.  They watch to partake in the other's bounty…unwelcomed as that may be.

Stealing is fair play for jays. 

They steal a lot of things.  Jays are notorious nest-robbers, stealing eggs and nestlings alike.  Regarded as a bit of a bully, they’ll steal items from your picnic table or campsite if the opportunity presents.

I was at my brother’s cabin on Mt. Lemmon watching these Steller’s Jays interact. 
Peanuts scattered on the deck railing attracted the first Steller’s Jay. Soon afterwards, a half-dozen more joined in. 

A peanut tossed in one jay’s direction was quickly snatched up, but a peanut tossed between jays prompted a scramble. 

Jays are smart and they understand if they’re going to be first, second or third to a peanut.  They seldom waste energy on a fruitless chase…remaining perched when outmaneuvered.

A lucky jay got away with the peanut prize this time, but a short chase informed the winner…it was not an uncontested nut.

(click on any picture to enlarge)

The Acorn Woodpecker shares the same mountain habitat with the Steller’s Jay.  Too small to compete for peanuts with the Steller’s Jays, this one only observed from above.

Not shy of humans, Steller’s Jays will visit a feeder for suet, seeds or peanuts.  They’re enjoyable to watch for their stealthy tactics and sneaky antics.

Feeding wildlife is a questionable practice. I don’t feed other wildlife, but bird feeding is widely practiced with a long history. I doubt it affects the birds negatively and may be an important food source in winter when natural food sources are hard to find.

I would suggest bird feeding promotes awareness of birds and that may be of much greater benefit.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds