Creepy Crawlies with Christy 121417

By Christy Pitto

For The Independent


This week’s Crawly is long overdue; so much so I was sure I’d introduced you to these fab flyers before. Meet the Steller’s Jay.

[blue stellers jay back pretty all the blue sm sd

Before we go any further – yes, it is Stell_E_r’s Jay, and they have the honor of having one of the most misspelled names in birddom. Truly, they are stellar birds and it’s natural to want to highlight that with their moniker but their actual name is just a happy homonym coincidence.

Steller’s Jays are named for naturalist Georg Steller who first documented them in Alaska in 1741 (thus the apostrophe in the name).

While Steller’s Jays may seem pretty common to those of us here in the Upper Rogue, you got it! They are another critter we are lucky to have. While their smaller, lighter cousin the Blue Jay can be found everywhere from the Rockies to the East Coast, Steller’s have a much smaller range. The live in coniferous-deciduous forests from Alaska down along the Rockies into Mexico and a narrow line down the West Coast. Folks from all over the US and even the world are quite envious that we get to see these gorgeous birds on a regular basis.

Moreover, most Steller’s prefer life at elevations of 3,000 – 6,000 feet, but Pacific Steller’s (including our Upper Rogue residents) live much lower. You’ve probably noticed you see more Steller’s in winter. While they don’t really migrate, many Steller’s do come down 1,000-2,000 feet in elevation for winter. In summer you’re more likely to spot them above Lost Creek Lake in one of our many National Forests and National Parks.

Some Fun Facts: like their raven cousins (both Steller’s and ravens are corvids) Steller’s are wicked smart birds. They also have omnivorous diets. While they eat mostly seeds, they also eat a lot of insects and even small rodents. While some of their stored seeds may sprout random sunflowers in your yard, their pest control duties make up for it.

Steller’s are excellent mimics, most often they’ll imitate Red-tailed Hawks as a way to (try to) scare off birds and other competitors for food. However, they will also mimic cats, dogs, various other birds, including Osprey, chickens and even machinery.

While Steller’s form long-term monogamous relationships, they create flocks in winter for more effective foraging. Combine that with their brainpower, and they can be very long-lived birds. The oldest document Steller’s was 16 years old.

If you’d like to see some Steller’s up close this winter, put out some black oil sunflower seeds. Steller’s are full of character and really fun to watch.