Readers’ wildlife photos

June 20, 2014 • 6:00 am

A reader e-introduced me to her friend Sherry Chadwell, who learned about the wildlife photos here and decided to send me some photos of a Steller’s Jay  (Cyanocitta stelleri) nesting on Chadwell’s fence in southern Oregon. Here’s the story:

We have a Steller’s jay nest behind one of the shovels hanging on a back fence. I’m flabbergasted that the jays would build in an area of such regular activity. It’s right next to a gateway in the fence that people walk through several times a day. The setting jay was eyeball to eyeball to anyone stopping to look at her.

But she stuck it out and laid four beautiful turquoise eggs with brown speckles. Three of the eggs hatched, the fourth never did. The newly-hatched chicks looked so tiny and helpless but they have been quickly growing. I hope they fledge successfully and join the population of beautiful, big, raucous jays in the woods around our home.

Here is the nest on May 12:

1. Steller's Jay Nest--5-12-14

The eggs, a lovely blue:

Eggs

The rest of the sequence is quick: 13 days. Here are the three newly hatched chicks on June 5:

3. Newly Hatched Steller's Jays--6-5-14

Three days later, with the first feathers:

4. Steller's Jay Chicks--6-8-14

Mom on the nest, June 8:

5. Steller's Jay on Nest--6-9-14

Chicks, June 10, begging from the photographer:

6. Steller Nestlings--6-10-14

One day later, June 11:

7. Steller's Jay Nestlings--6-11-14

June 14, with feathers coming in nicely:

8. Steller's Nestlings--6-14-14

And four days later, June 18, with the iridescent blue feathers starting to appear:


10 Steller's Babies--6-18-14
They grow quickly, don’t they? Here’s the range of Steller’s Jay, taken from the Cornell site (link above):

cyan_stel_AllAm_map

The source of its name (from Wikipedia): “This bird is named after the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, the first European to record them in 1741.”

And some information, also from Wikipedia:

Breeding

The nest is usually in a conifer but is sometimes built in a hollow in a tree. Similar in construction to the Blue Jay’s nest, it tends to be a bit larger (25 to 43 cm (9.8 to 16.9 in)), using a number of natural materials or scavenged trash, often mixed with mud. Between two and six eggs are laid during breeding season. The eggs are oval in shape with a somewhat glossy surface. The background colour of the egg shell tends to be pale variations of greenish-blue with brown- or olive-coloured speckles. The clutch is usually incubated entirely by the female for about 16 days.

Vocalizations

Like other Jays, the Steller’s Jay has numerous and variable vocalizations. One common call is a harsh SHACK-Sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck-sheckseries; 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.

Finally, you can hear a selection of its calls here; don’t miss the third one, in which it imitates a Red-tailed Hawk.

32 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Cute! I’ve heard blue jays at my place imitate hawks which cleared the feeders. I don’t think the jays did it with the intention of clearing out the other birds as they looked perplexed about it but who knows. Perplexity is hard to judge in birds!

    1. Just a note on identification, and using the term “Blue Jay”. While this is a common term here in California there are in fact two Jays of similar appearance. The aforementioned Stellar Jay and the oft mistaken western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica). Both sport the blue feathers, but Scrub Jays have a grey head and no crest. As I just discovered, the Blue Jay and it’s cousin the Stellar Jay occupy a separate genus than the Scub Jay.

      1. I should add an anecdote. Stellar Jays are very bold and can be aggressive. One afternoon while eating lunch in front of a building on the San Jose State Univ campus, a Stellar Jay flew right at my chest, and pecked my hand, in an attempt to relive me of the ham sandwich I was holding.

      2. I’m using as the actual name of the bird not the colour. Blue jays are the only jays where I live.

        1. If I correctly recall from my youth, in the Southern Appalachians, to go swimmin’ “nekkid” is to go swimming “jaybird.”

  2. Perhaps the momma bird chose that spot just to seduce a photographer into a photo shoot of her delightful brood. Such pretty eggs and stunning adult wing feathers!

  3. Very nice photos of the hungry, insistent nestlings. I’ve seen an occasional Stellars Jay here, but they’re uncommon.

  4. Wonderful sequence of photos, Sherry! I am amazed that the mom and dad chose to build their home behind your shovel. Thanks for sharing! Joan

  5. Great photos. And thanks for giving the geographic location. In the past there have been photos posted and I didn’t even know what continent -let alone country, province, state, etc.- the photo were from.

  6. I’m guessing the parents either were young and inexperienced in the ways of nest-building, or they don’t see humans as predators. Either way, it turned out well for all — including those of us who get to enjoy the photos!

    b&

  7. I’ve never seen or heard of Stellar’s Jays before.

    That blue is, well, WOW!!! Is the color really that vibrant or is it overstated in the photo?

    Beautiful!

      1. Aha! The article explains blue feathers and other colors, too, and notes that it is only in recent decades this knowledge was determined. Maybe I didn’t sleep through a portion of a biology class lecture as a callow yout’ after all.

      2. Yes, very cool. If I remember correctly the blue, and perhaps some other colors(?), on butterfly wings is achieved the same way, nano structures that cause refraction of incident light in a specific way.

  8. Great photos of a cool species. I’d love to be put in touch with Sherry about these images. Would you be able to forward my email address to her? Thank you!

    Adam

  9. That’s their real color in good light. They really are beautiful. We have a lot here in Seattle. There’s a busy pair living somewhere in my neighbor’s yard.

  10. Wonderful photos and story. Thanks to all involved for sharing.

    I’d love to live in a little cottage that has structural elements evocative of nature. Such as a spotted stone floor just the colour of those amazing eggs!

  11. Georg Steller’s name was also given to the “Steller’s Sea Cow” (Hydrodamalis Gigas), a large, slow-moving, dugong-like animal found near the Commodore Islands off Kamchatka. Sadly, the ease with which they could be caught (Steller said they were “completely tame”) and the value of their hides, meat and fat (which burned without making soot) doomed them. They were wiped out completely within 27 years of their discovery.

  12. HI All. I’m Sherry Chadwell and I want to thank you all for your comments on my Steller’s jay photos.

    We love the jays but right now we’re having a particular problem with them. Maybe some of you out there will have a suggestion or two.

    We have a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees nesting in a box in our front yard. The Steller’s jays have been showing an inordinate interest in trying to poke their heads into the entrance hole–after the eggs and, now, the chicks, we assume. We’re worried about what will happen when the little chickadees fledge, worried that the jays will kill them. Anyone have any ideas about ways to possibly protect them? Thanks

    1. Jays are highly predatory. I once watched one steal eggs from a hummingbird nest, with mama hummingbird looking on. They’ll feed on eggs, nestlings, fledglings, and anything else they can kill. You could try one of those fake owls that scare birds away.

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