Posts Tagged ‘steller’s jay’

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

There are five jays that call the Pacific Northwest home. Can you name them all? Steller’s Jay is the most common, followed by the Gray Jay and the Western Scrub-jay. The Blue Jay and Pinyon Jay round out the five, but these two are somewhat rare.

The Western Scrub-jay (WSJ) used to be a rare sight, as well, especially in Washington State. But an important part of its habitat is the Prairie Oak, and as this tree has spread northward, the WSJ has followed it. We humans are very good at ripping out important wildlife habitats, however, so it remains to be seen if this northward expansion will continue or if it will eventually stall.

It’s an exciting thing to watch these birds on their northern march. Just a handful of years ago, it was a big deal to see them in areas south of Seattle. But they kept moving, handily conquering the Emerald City and the Puget Sound suburbs, and are now being seen further north. (I’ve heard a rumor that the WSJ has also been seen in British Columbia. I’ll be looking into this, for sure.) A few of them visited our feeders for a few weeks in September, but have since moved on. Luckily, the camera was ready, and my daughter and I were both able to get a few good shots.

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

If you compare many range maps for the Western Scrub-jay, you might notice that some maps show this bird living farther north than other maps do. Some maps will show these birds living to the north of Seattle, while some show them barely making it over the Washington/Oregon border.

Put these maps in order and they will illustrate the WSJ’s northward expansion. Very cool to see, indeed. (A Google image search will help you to find some of these maps.)

The Western Scrub-jay can be broken down into three subspecies: Aphelocoma californica, Aphelocoma woodhouseii, and Aphelocoma sumichrasti. The one we see most commonly in the Pacific Northwest is A. californica.

Read on to learn more about the Western Scrub-jay.

Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica

Size and markings: 11″ long (28 cm), with a wingspan of 15-16″ (38-41 cm). Head, wings, and tail are blue. Dark eyes sit under a white eye stripe and just in front of a gray cheek patch. Beak is dark with a slight downward curve at the end. Back is brownish-gray. Unlike Steller’s and Blue Jays, this one has no crest on its crown. Tail is long and blue. Light-colored undersides. A. californica, most typically seen in the PNW, has a blue “necklace” interrupted by a white shirt front.

Learn more: American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America by DK Books

Food: The Western Scrub-jay is omnivorous, eating everything from nuts (acorns, peanuts), seeds, and berries, to snails, insects, and spiders. Rodents and the young of other birds are also fair game. It won’t pass up a good feeding station, either, especially when sunflower seeds are offered. This jay will scavenge for seeds below feeders, as well.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Throughout its range, which consists primarily of the western United States and parts of Mexico, the WSJ frequents foothills and lower mountain slopes, scrub lands, and even suburbia if not too densely populated, preferably near oaks. This monogamous bird prefers low trees and shrubs for nesting sites, where both male and female work on building the nest.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 1-6

Migratory pattern: While the Western Scrub-jay does not migrate, it often chooses fall as a time to be nomadic and change location, which may also be when its range expansion occurs.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Possibly any.

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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Each morning, there’s one Steller’s Jay who arrives to sit in our Japanese Maple before the others. I like to think it’s the same bird each time, but I honestly can’t tell, so I pretend. My nine-year-old, given the task of naming him, calls him Toca Boca after a hair styling app on iTunes. (Of course, we also don’t know if he’s actually a male, but we’re going with it.) The maple is just 15-ish feet from our patio, which is where I stand in my pajamas and bedhead hair to toss peanuts to birds who have bedheads of their own. As soon as I start tossing, the rest of Toca Boca’s clan swoops out from wherever they were watching me, including from the roof just above where I’m standing. (Why, yes, that does freak me out.) On the days when the rest of the gang is otherwise predisposed, TB will loudly squawk to let them know they’re missing out on the food, and in they fly from all corners of the neighborhood.

“Silly bird,” I say. “You could have had all these peanuts to yourself.”

“Crazy lady,” I imagine he replies, “I’m not coming near you on my own.”

Toca Boca contemplates keeping the peanuts for himself. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Toca Boca contemplates keeping the peanuts for himself. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

This handsome yet quirky bird might have had a different name than the one he has now (Steller’s Jay, that is, not Toca Boca) were it not for a brave botanist named Georg Steller, the first European to see — and set foot on — the beautiful land we now call Alaska. It was on Kodiak Island where Steller first saw the black and blue jay, a relative of the Blue Jay and the American Crow, among others in the Corvidae family.

Georg (pronounced GAY-org) Steller was born 306 years ago on March 10, 1709 in Windsheim, Bavaria (now Germany). Long before the ill-fated voyage of 1741 that left him a survivor among a much smaller group than had first set out, Steller was educated at several universities, where he studied theology, medicine, and the natural sciences, including botany. The knowledge he gained, especially in medicine and botany, made him a highly-valuable BMOB (big man on boat), when he put it to use to save many of the sailors afflicted with scurvy. Captain Vitus Bering, in charge of the expedition, unfortunately was one of the men who did not survive.

Georg Wilhelm Steller, 1709-1746

Georg Wilhelm Steller, 1709-1746

It was on one of the Aleutian islands during this difficult trip that Steller was able to collect specimens of several birds and animals that were named for him in the years after his death. Steller’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), a marine mammal that was a cousin of the manatee, was one of the creatures he discovered. The sea cow was massive, weighing around nine tons (or more) and measuring up to 30 feet in length. Sadly, Steller’s Sea Cow was hunted to extinction within the two decades after its existence was made known.

In his own words: Journal of a Voyage With Bering, 1741-1742, by Georg Steller

Other creatures discovered by and named for Georg Steller were Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus), Steller’s Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus), a mollusk called the Gumboot Chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri), Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri), and our friend, Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).

Georg Steller died in 1746 while attempting to return home on an overland journey through Siberia. I’m grateful, as I’m sure you are, for valiant and brave men like Steller who put their lives at risk to discover more about our amazing world.

This glimpse into the life of Georg Steller and the tragic voyage to the Kamchutka Peninsula in Alaska was just the tip of the iceberg. You can read more at the following links:

Georg Steller: Zoologist and Botanist (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Encounters of Alutiiq and Russians on Kodiak Island, 1741 (in the words of Georg Steller, himself)

Absurd Creature of the Week: A Strange Saga of Bribery, Skinny-dipping, and a 12-ton Sea Cow (

Profiles in Natural History: Georg Wilhelm Steller and the Ape in the Sea (Popular Social Science)

Steller’s Voyage on Google Maps

Learn more about Steller’s Jay:

The Beautiful Yet Dastardly Steller’s Jay (Pacific Northwest Birds)

Ever Heard of a Bearded Steller’s Jay? (Pacific Northwest Birds)

Which Jay Was That? It’s blue… it’s a jay… but what KIND of Jay? (BirdNote)


Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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On suet-making days, when I’ve got everything melting together in a pan on top of the stove, each member of my family, one-by-one, will saunter nonchalantly into the kitchen. Soon comes the sly, “Whatcha makin’? Smells like peanut butter fudge.”

Disappointment ensues when they find out that not only is it not fudge, but it isn’t for them at all. It’s peanut butter suet, and it’s for the backyard birds who’ve become spoiled enough to depend on it during cooler weather. Or even demand it, like the resident Northern Flickers who absolutely relish it.

Some time back, I decided to facilitate a taste test between my suet and some that was store-bought. (Both were peanut butter flavored.) Knowing my suet was fresh, fragrant, and even a little softer and easier to eat, I had a feeling I already knew which suet would win (ahem…mine), but gave it a go anyway. Here are a few photos to illustrate how the test went.

Order here: Pacific Northwest Birds Peanut Butter Suet

I’d added raisins to this particular batch of suet, but my mistake was mixing them in whole and not chopped. The birds seemed to pick around them and were more interested in the seeds, peanuts, and the suet dough itself. But, whole raisins or not, you can see which suet the birds preferred. The store-bought suet is on the left and mine is on the right. It’s been a while since I took these, but if I remember right, all of the photos were taken over a two week period, though the time frame may have been shorter.

#1 -- Hard to tell, but both suet baskets contain approximately the same amount of suet (by weight). The baskets are the same size.

#2 -- They've been chipping away at my suet and all but ignoring the store-bought.

#3 -- Whoa...almost gone!

#4 -- BAM! Loser concedes. We have a winner!

Somewhere in the middle of that, I forgot to take another photo, but you get the idea. The birds preferred the suet on the right.

Making your own suet is a fun and rewarding project. Check out this recipe to try it yourself. Or, if you’d rather not bother, you can purchase it directly from Pacific Northwest Birds. All of my suet is made in small batches to ensure quality and then frozen until shipment. The recipe I use for this suet is slightly different than the one at the link, as I changed it up just a bit to ensure stability and consistency. Each block of suet weighs about a pound or more…much larger than those little suet cakes you’ll find at the store. The suet on the right in the photos above is not representative of the much-larger suet blocks available for purchase.

Whether you buy it or make your own, you’ll most likely attract some or all of these birds: Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhees, Steller’s Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pileated Woodpeckers, Bushtits, and Northern Flickers. I have a feeling I’m forgetting one or two. Oh, that’s right — and European Starlings, which I don’t appreciate due to their ability to hog and demolish the suet block within just a few days. (I’ve been known to take the suet down until the starlings have forgotten about it.)


Read more about our peanut butter suet here.


Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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American Goldfinches. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

American Goldfinches have been hogging the feeders lately, perhaps to fuel up for their journey to...elsewhere (certainly not here). 9-1-2014. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

When I stepped outside to fill the feeders the other morning (the first of September, to be exact), I was pleasantly surprised to feel a slight chill in the air. I love summer, but all the heat and humidity was making me cranky.

Besides the lower temps, there are other things I look forward to with the arrival of fall: the changing of the leaves, drinking hot coffee at Starbucks just to warm myself up, and the visits of migrating birds passing through on the way to their winter homes.

It’s that very idea of birds heading south that causes some people to believe that feeding the birds is just a seasonal thing. The truth is that while many birds do fly off to spend the winter in warmer climates, quite a few remain. Here are some of the birds you’ll see year-round in the Pacific Northwest (though not everyone here in the PNW will see the same birds):

Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay
Dark-eyed Junco
Pine Siskin
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
House Finch
Purple Finch

American Goldfinches also hang out year round, according to every range map I’ve seen. That may be true, but where I live (just south of Seattle), I only see them from spring through early fall. What about you? Do you see them during the winter months? Since they’re more drab in the winter, they may in large part just go unnoticed, but I have a feeling that many of them also vacation in the southern U.S. before returning in the spring. I know for a fact that they are nowhere near my feeders in the winter months…and you can bet I notice and identify every bird I see in my backyard.

Considering that so many of our feathered friends do stick around, what should we be doing this fall to help care for them? I’ve come up with a few ideas.

1. For starters, now is a great time to clean your feeders. Let the birds empty them, then bring them in to give them a good scrub in your sink. (Be sure to dry them completely before refilling with seed.) I prefer feeders that come apart easily. I also have a long tube seed feeder, but since it’s hard to clean, it gets replaced about once a year. Choose hummingbird feeders that are easy to clean, too, since these can grow mildew and bacteria quickly.

2. Continue to feed the hummingbirds. Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive in spring and leave in late summer, but our Anna’s hummers are year-round residents who depend on nectar for sustenance, especially when the bug population drops.

Read it: Backyard Birding: Using Natural Gardening to Attract Birds by Julie Zickefoose

3. Depending on where you hang your feeders, this is also a good time to rake or sweep away any old seed and seed husks. Not only is it unsightly, but old seed left on the ground can harbor bacteria and also attract slugs and rodents.

4. Hang up bird houses and/or roosting boxes to provide shelter for birds during cold and harsh weather. Also, hold off on any drastic pruning of shrubbery and trees, for the same reason. This also gives birds a place to hide from predators.

5. Most importantly, keep feeding the birds! Once you’ve begun to feed your backyard birds, it really is a commitment. They quickly learn to depend on you for sustenance. Look for sales and stock up on seed if you live in an area where you’re likely to get snowed in.

What do you do to care for backyard birds during the fall and winter months? Leave a comment below or chime in on our Facebook page or on Twitter!


Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Continuing with yesterday’s baby bird theme, today we are showcasing a few more. This group is more of a hodge-podge, or a motley crew, if you will. What I love about these photos is that in a couple of instances, I wasn’t aware that the birds I was taking pictures of were babies because of how far away I was. It was rather fun to bring them up on the computer and only then realize what I had.

So here we go. Just to be honest, some are cuter than others.

Immature male black-headed grosbeak. Photo copyright: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male black-headed grosbeak. A little scrawnier and scruffier than an adult, he'll be in his full glory soon enough.

Immature purple finch. Photo copyright: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

I first thought this was a female purple finch, but upon closer inspection, I believe this is clearly an immature purple finch -- possibly a female, though it could be a male who'll get his "raspberry" coloring eventually.

Immature spotted towhee. Photo copyright: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Remember when I said some babies weren't as cute as others? I warned you. This unfortunate fellow is an immature spotted towhee. The good news is that he (or she) will become more attractive as time goes on. Very interesting markings, though, don't you think?

Immature Steller's jay. Photo copyright: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

This immature Steller's jay is another that falls into the not-so-cute category, but is probably my favorite. He and his siblings are real characters. I've been having fun watching their squabbles and false bravado as they try to figure out their family hierarchy -- fun to watch, though I'm sure a very, very serious thing to them. The siblings will squawk at each other, hop straight up and down, then -- about a foot off the ground -- fly at each other, ending in a "Come at me, bro!" chest bump. This guy has a wound on his face from one of those "fights."

Male evening grosbeak feeding babies. Photo copyright: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

This daddy evening grosbeak is feeding two of his kids. Are you noticing a pattern over these past couple of days? So often it's the male adult seen feeding the babies. I've also noticed this in years past with house sparrows. No dead-beat dads in the bird world! (Well, except for brown-headed cowbirds.)

I hope you enjoyed today’s gallery. As always, you’re welcome to post pictures you’ve taken of birds here in the Pacific Northwest on our Facebook page.


Learn all about the birds in your own backyard! Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds is now available for you to read (and take with you!) on your Kindle, Kindle app, or on your PC or Mac.

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