Lately, it seems every time I walk out my front door I am not only greeted by the loud noises of the all-too-familiar summer construction zone, but also by the scolding call of British Columbia's provincial bird, the Steller's jay. Everywhere I go it appears these fleeting, cobalt-coloured birds are there as well.
Discovered in 1741 by Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist and physician who was part of the Russian expedition to North America's northwest, the Steller's jay is among the few crested jays in North America. They are an easily identifiable bird with deep blue and black plumage, rounded wings, long tail and a predominant crest that nearly stands straight up on its head. Ranging in length between 30 and 35 centimetres, with a wingspan of approximately 44 centimetres, these iconic birds can weigh from 100 to 140 grams.
Steller's jays are typically found at higher elevations, flying among the coniferous and deciduous forest canopy. Being non-migratory birds, Steller's jays are known to remain at these higher elevations for most of the year, simply moving to lower elevations once the weather becomes too cold. When these intelligent birds are not gliding and foraging amongst the tall trees, they can be found bouncing and hopping on their long legs scavenging for food along the ground, particularly in areas where human activity may result in food scraps or leftovers. Omnivores at heart, these opportunistic feeders have a varied diet feasting on insects, seeds, nuts, berries, eggs, and even other small birds. Being year-round B.C. residents, the jays must store food for the winter months as the availability of their main menu items become scarcer.
The dense coniferous forests not only provide an optimal foraging environment, but also provide the ideal protective location for their nests. Like the Blue jay, the Steller's jay is the among the only jay species in the Americas known to use mud when constructing their nest. They use the mud to bind together twigs, moss, sticks and other debris found to create a cup-like nest that sits gently where the branches of the tree meet the trunk. Measuring approximately 25 cm in diameter, these nests provide the perfect first home for their once-a-year hatch of two to six eggs. These eggs will hatch after 16 days. The main predators of these jays are owls and hawks, although other animals or birds can be seen as predators to their eggs or young.
A great representation of B.C.'s beauty, the Steller's jay provides even the most amateur bird-watcher an interesting experience. While most of these birds show little fear of humans, it is important to remember not to feed them, or leave out easily accessible food.
The Whistler Naturalists are a non-profit group dedicated to increasing local knowledge of the natural world in the Whistler area.
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