Steller's Jay

Cyanocitta stelleri



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Figure 5. Annual cycle of molt and breeding.

Information summarized for subspecies in the U.S. and Canada; little information available on the annual cycle of subspecies in Mexico and Central America. Thick lines show peak activity and thin lines show off-peak.

Pair Formation

Pair remains on territory all year in coastal California, where courtship begins in Mar or Apr; several days of Sexual Sidling and Courtship-Circling (see Behavior: Sexual Behavior) precede onset of courtship-feeding (Brown 1964b). Pair bond is stable over time. Courtship and renewal of pair bond can begin up to 4 mo before nest-building is initiated (Brown 1964b).


Nest card records for California, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, and Washington (Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology [WFVZ]) indicate that nest-building is first recorded in late Mar; peaks in Apr. Nest-building also recorded in May–Jul in these areas. Little information for Central American subspecies.

First/Only Brood Per Season

Breeding phenology summarized in Figure 5. In most populations in the U.S. and Canada, nesting begins as early as Mar, peaks in Apr and May. Little information for Mexican and Central American subspecies. Some representative dates for nests with eggs: California-late Apr through late May; Utah and Colorado—late May through early Jun; Arizona—mid- to late May; New Mexico—late Apr through early Jun.

Second/Later Broods Per Season

Little information on second broods. Later nesting attempts in Jun or early Jul generally interpreted as renesting attempts following failure of first nesting attempt, rather than second brood. Little information on nesting phenology in Central America.

Nest Site

Selection Process

Site apparently selected by both members of the pair (Brown 1964b). During early pair-bond formation in Dec, a female flew to a site where a small amount of nest material was accumulated and performed the Wing-Spreading display (see Behavior: Agonistic Behavior); the male then flew to site and fed her; the male also observed flying to the site, fluttering his wings and uttering high-pitched squeaking sounds, and rearranging nest materials.


Nests is typically placed on horizontal branches close to the trunk, often close to the top of a tree (Bent 1946a, R. W. Campbell pers. comm.). When nesting near human habitation, pairs frequently place the nest close to a window, building, or path (R. W. Campbell pers. comm.); occasionally in a building or barn (Bent 1946a, R. W. Campbell pers. comm.). Most nests are placed 3–5 m above ground in bushes or trees, but occasionally in bushes almost on the ground, and as high as 30 m in trees. For sample of 65 nests in British Columbia, nest sites ranged from ground level to 9 m off ground, about 70% occurring between 2.2 and 4.5 m high (R. W. Campbell pers. comm.). Early in the season, most nests were placed in coniferous trees, but deciduous trees are also used after they leaf out (Bent 1946a). Near Berkeley, CA, most nests are built high in eucalyptus trees (Brown 1964b).

Site Characteristics

Nests in wide variety of different sites, including undisturbed old- growth coniferous forest, managed or harvested forests, mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, parks and recreational areas, backyards, and gardens in suburban and urban areas.

In British Columbia, 66% of 70 nests were found in human-influenced coniferous or mixed forests, 33% in undisturbed forests (R. W. Campbell pers. comm.).

Little information on geographic variation in site characteristics; little information on nesting in Mexico and Central America.


Steller's Jay nest; Cuyamaca Mts.

Nest is a bulky structure of plant fibers, dry leaves, moss, and sticks mixed with mud; lined with coarse rootlets, pine needles, and animal hairs inside the mud base.; Cuyamaca Mts., San Diego Co., California. 29 May 1922. Ruler is in cm.

Construction Process

Although both sexes participate in nest-building, the female contributes the most. The pair often flies together to gather nest material (Bent 1946a).

Structure And Composition Matter

Bulky structure of plant fibers, dry leaves, moss, and sticks mixed with mud; lined with coarse rootlets, pine needles, and animal hairs inside the mud base. Steller's Jay is the only New World jay besides Blue Jay to use mud in its nest (Hardy 1969).


Outside diameter 25–43 cm; height 15–18 cm; inside diameter 11–13 cm; depth 6–9 cm (Bent 1946a).


No information.

Maintenance Or Reuse Of Nests, Alternate Nests

No information.

Nonbreeding Nests



Steller's Jay clutch; 5 mi SW of Oswego, Oregon.

Eggs are bluish green, and irregularly marked with small, irregular dark brown, purplish brown, or olive spots.: Oswego, Oregon. 5 May 1948. Ruler is in cm.


Subelliptical to short subelliptical.


No significant differences in size for annectens, carbonacea, frontalis, stelleri, and macrolopha subspecies, with average dimensions 22.4 x 31.0 mm (range 20.3–23.9 x 27.3–35.2; n = 89 clutches, 355 eggs; WFVZ). Egg sizes similar for different subspecies reported by Bent (Bent 1946a). No information on Central American subspecies.


No information.


Bluish green, irregularly marked with small, irregular dark brown, purplish brown, or olive spots.

Surface Texture

Smooth, slightly glossy.

Eggshell Thickness

No thickness measurements. Mass of dry empty eggshell about 0.46 g (range 0.30–0.59; WFVZ).

Clutch Size

2–6, usually 4 or 5 (Harrison 1978a). Mean clutch size 3.06 ± 0.82 SD (range 1–4, n = 33 nests across w. U.S. and Canada; Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology nest records).


Female reported to lay 1 egg daily (C. E. Bendire in Bent 1946a).


Onset Of Broodiness And Incubation In Relation To Laying

No information.

Incubation Patches

Female only (Brown 1964b).

Incubation Period

Lasts mean of 16 d (Goodwin 1976b).

Parental Behavior

Incubation normally (perhaps always) by female, although both sexes reported to incubate in Alaska (Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959). Male feeds the incubating female (Goodwin 1976b). The birds are quiet and secretive near the nest; the incubating female does not flush easily from the nest; once an incubating bird is flushed from the nest, both sexes are noisy (J. S. Rowley in Bent 1946a).

Hardiness Of Eggs Against Temperature Stress; Effect Of Egg Neglect

No information.


No information.

Young Birds

Condition At Hatching

Altricial. No other information.

Growth And Development

No information.

Parental Care


No information.


Both sexes feed nestlings. Little information on food of nestlings or feeding rates.

Nest Sanitation

No information.

Cooperative Breeding

Not reported.

Brood Parasitism

Not reported.

Fledgling Stage

Departure From Nest

Young remain in nest for about 16 d (Goodwin 1976b).


No information. Tail of juvenile is short at fledging, but rectrices grow to adult size within about 2 wk (Pitelka 1958).

Association With Parents Or Other Young

Both parents continue to feed the young for about a month after they fledge (Goodwin 1976b); dependent fledglings beg loudly and chase parents. Independent fledglings can remain with parents in family group into fall or winter (Bent 1946a, Brown 1964b).

Ability To Get Around, Feed, And Care For Self

Timing and development of mobility and flying ability of a captive Steller's Jay chick was similar to that of young Blue Jays: Weak flights begin at 15–22 d of age; bird tended to stay on perch; unable to take off from ground, but hopped up to higher perches and flew from there; frequently exercised wings from about 27 d, mainly at dawn and dusk; sustained flights occurred at about 30 d (Hardy 1961b).

Immature Stage

Development of feeding and drinking, sleeping habits, preening, manipulatory ability, and vocal behavior of a captive Steller's Jay is similar to that of an immature Blue Jay (Hardy 1961b). Self-feeding begins by about 29 d of age; first evidence of hammering food at about the same time, but ability to manipulate and extract seeds is awkward and inefficient for at least 2 wk; begin to show food-storing behavior by about 30 d. Preening highly developed by about 15 d: Runs vanes of remiges through tip of bill, vigorously shuffles wings and tail, stretches wings, scratches head, and wipes bill; bathes in water by about 40 d, extensively preening and fluffing body feathers. Little information on behavior of wild birds, especially development of behavior after dispersal from the natal area.

Recommended Citation

Walker, L. E., P. Pyle, M. A. Patten, E. Greene, W. Davison, and V. R. Muehter (2016). Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.