Cyanocitta stelleri

Steller’s Jay, closely related to the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) of eastern North America, is a conglomeration of 18 recognized subspecies. The most noticeable difference is a change from black crests and heads in northern races to blue in the south.

Steller’s Jays are omnivorous feeders, large seeds such as acorns and pine nuts are important when available. These jays may steal nuts cached by other jays or take eggs or nestlings of smaller birds. (Greene et al. 1998).

DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work of the TBBA project, volunteers found confirmed breeding evidence for Steller’s Jay in the Davis Mountains and probable breeding evidence in the Guadalupe Mountains of Trans-Pecos Texas. Nesting was found previously in the latter range (Oberholser 1974)

Elsewhere Steller’s Jays breed from the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska south along the Pacific Coast to southern California. The species also breeds from the Canadian Rockies south through the United States to the highlands of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to Nicaragua (Howell and Webb 1995, Greene et al. 1998, Sauer et al. 2005).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. This jay is a permanent resident of its preferred habitat in the 2 highest mountain ranges of the Trans-Pecos region. The breeding season there probably extends from late April to mid-July. In fall and winter Steller’s Jays occasionally wander to other areas in western Texas (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

BREEDING HABITAT. Steller’s Jays in Texas breed above 1500 m (5000 ft) in forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

Both sexes build the nest in a tree or bush around 4.5-7.5 m (15-25 ft) above ground. The bulky, rough-looking structure contains plant fibers, dry leaves, moss, sticks and detritus, held together with mud. The lining is coarse rootlets and pine needles. The outside diameter is 25-43 cm (10-17 in), height 15-18 cm (6-7 in), inside diameter 11-13 cm (3.2-5 in) and cup depth 6-9 cm (2.3-3.5 in).

The female commonly lays 4-5 (range 3-6) slightly glossy, pale greenish blue or bluish-green eggs (see Harrison [1979] for photo of markings). The female does most or all of the incubation which lasts about 16 days and young birds leave the nest about 16 days after hatching. Pairs raise one brood per year; Brood parasitism has not been reported (Harrison 1979, Greene et al. 1998).

STATUS. Steller’s Jay is common in The Bowl of the Guadalupe Mountains, uncommon to scarce above 1800 m (6000 ft) in the remainder of this range and in the Davis Mountains (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

The Breeding Bird Survey does not sample Steller’s Jay in Texas due to lack of road access to its preferred habitat. Data from 482 routes across the United States and Canada on which this jay was detected produce a 95% confidence interval (There is a 95% chance that the actual population trend will be between these two numbers.) of -0.3 to +0.9% population change per year (Sauer et al. 2005). This overall trend, suggesting only a very small population change has occurred in the past 4 decades, is a hopeful sign for the future of Steller’s Jay in Texas.

Text by Robert C. Tweit (2005)

Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

Greene, E., W. Davison and V. R. Muehter. 1998.Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). In The birds of North America, No. 343 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas, Vol. 2. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds, part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2004. Version 2005.1. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD (Web site,

Comments are closed.