Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Mystique of the Stellar's Jay

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The Mystique of the Stellar's Jay

By Anna Hendrix
The Daily Magi
October 23, 2062

The Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a jay native to western North America, closely related to the Blue Jay found in the rest of the continent, but with a black head and upper body. It is also known as the Long-crested Jay, Mountain Jay, and Pine Jay. It is the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains.

The Steller's Jay shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range. Blackish-brown-headed birds from the north gradually become bluer-headed farther south. The Steller's Jay has a more slender bill and longer legs than the Blue Jay and has a much more pronounced crest. It is also somewhat larger. The head is blackish-brown with light blue streaks on the forehead. This dark coloring gives way from the shoulders and lower breast to silvery blue. The primaries and tail are a rich blue with darker barring.

It occurs in coniferous forest over much of the western half of North America from Alaska in the north to northern Nicaragua[3] completely replacing the Blue Jay in most of those areas. Some hybridization with the Blue Jay in Colorado has been reported. The Steller's Jay lives in coniferous and mixed woodland, but not in completely dense forest, and requires open space. It typically lives in flocks of greater than 10 individuals. In autumn, flocks often visit oak woods when acorns are ripe.

The Steller's Jay primarily lives in coniferous forests but can be found in many forested areas. They can be found in low to moderate elevations as high as the tree line, but rarely go that high. Steller's Jays are common in residential and agricultural areas with nearby forests.

Like other Jays, the Steller's Jay has numerous and variable vocalizations. One common call is a harsh SHACK-Sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck series; another skreeka! skreeka! call sounds almost exactly like an old-fashioned pump handle; yet another is a soft, breathy hoodle hoodle whistle. Its alarm call is a harsh, nasal wah. Some calls are sex-specific: females produce a rattling sound, while males make a high-pitched gleep gleep.

The Steller's Jay also is a noted vocal mimic. It can mimic the vocalizations of many species of birds, other animals, and sounds of non-animal origin. It often will imitate the calls from birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Osprey, causing other birds to seek cover and flee feeding areas.

This bird is named after the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, the first European to record them in 1741. The Steller's Jay is the provincial bird of British Columbia.

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