Steller’s jays are a colorful member of the Corvidae family, which contains various crows, ravens, grackles, jackdaws, and other mostly black birds.
The Steller’s jay is closely related to the Blue jay, which also lives in North America. Like many other corvids, telling male and female Steller’s jays apart is notoriously difficult. This is a guide to female Steller’s jays.
Female Steller’s jays are very slightly smaller than fully grown males, but this isn’t a reliable way of telling them apart. As far as coloration and plumage go, there is no consistent difference between males and females except for subtle differences to the tail, where females have fainter black barring.
To reliably identify female Steller’s jays, it’s necessary to look at behavioral differences, which are most prominent in the breeding season.
There are subtle differences in calls and vocalizations too, but these are tough to identify unless you live somewhere Steller’s jays are abundant.
Read on to find out more about female Steller’s jays and how to identify them from males.
Unfortunately, there's no reliable visual way of telling male and female Steller's Jays apart
Steller’s jay females are nearly identical to the males in every respect. This is often the case for birds in the corvid family - females and males often look identical.
Firstly, the male is slightly larger than the female, but the difference is minimal or non-existent in many cases. Then, the only other visual difference between them is that the female has a slightly paler black barring on the tail. But, again, this is far from consistent and rates as a poor way to identify females from males.
The other problem is, Steller’s jays show a lot of variation in their visual appearance across their range. Northern birds have darker heads, whereas southern birds have bluer heads, for example. This makes it almost impossible to tell males and females apart upon looks alone!
Close up of a perched Steller's Jay calling
To identify male and female Steller’s jays, you need to look closely at their behavior. Behavioral differences are most prominent in the breeding season, as this is when males and females take on different roles.
Before the start of the spring breeding season, as early as December but usually January or February, the male displays to the female by aligning himself sideways to the female and displaying his plumage, tilting himself and his crest towards her.
He’ll also sing to the female and feed her in a practice known as courtship feeding. If you see a Steller’s jay relaying food to another in early spring, it’s likely a male.
Once Steller’s jays select a nesting site, the female carries out most building duties, though this varies from region to region. The female usually takes care of incubation duties, too, except in some northern parts of their range where both birds incubate.
When the female incubates, the male feeds her. This is another behavior to watch out for - if the bird is making trips to and from the nest, then it’s more likely a male.
Males are fiercely defensive of their mate throughout the breeding season and are generally more aggressive. So, if you see an interaction between three or more Steller’s jays where one chases off the other, it’s safe to assume the aggressor is the male!
Behavioral differences are one of the best ways to distinguish males from female Steller's Jays
Steller’s jays are intelligent and capable of numerous advanced vocalizations. These vary from high-pitched cheek sounds to lower-pitch creaks and wahs. They also have a song consisting of a sequence of high-pitch popping sounds, gurgles, and whistles.
Both the male and the female sing, but the male sings more frequently. The female’s vocalizations are generally higher pitch and more metallic than the male’s.
There are a couple of vocalizations that are only produced by one gender, such as a mechanical rattle sound that seems exclusive to the female. A tee-ar whistle call is exclusive to the male.
Like most corvids, Steller's Jays are highly vocal birds
Steller’s jays have an ash-gray to blue-black head and neck, though the head is usually darker. The gray neck fades into a faint blue breast, a blue tail, and blue wings. The tail has black and blue barring, as do the lower wings.
Steller’s jays have a distinctive head crest with blue or white markings and often have thin white or blue lined markings on their dark heads.
There is a great deal of regional variation between Steller’s jays - northern individuals tend to be darker and southern individuals tend to be bluer.
Close up of a Steller's Jay eating an acorn
Male Steller’s jays are marginally larger than females, but the difference is pretty much impossible to quantify.
No reliable measurements show how much bigger males are - it’s that marginal.
Steller’s jays form strong, lifelong monogamous bonds. Both parents cooperate to raise the young, firstly by building the nest together.
While the female usually incubates, the male feeds her and protects the nest. Then, both parents feed the nestlings and rear them until fledging.
All in all, Steller’s jays depend on their strong bonds, and females can’t raise young alone.
Steller's Jay at a bird feeder
Female Steller’s jays are identically colored to the males, with black heads, ash-gray necks, blue breasts, and bright blue tails and wing feathers.
There are virtually no differences between males and females except subtly fainter black and blue barring on the female, though this isn’t a consistent difference.
Like other jays, Steller’s jays are noisy, and females are no different from males. Both the males and females sing, though males sing more regularly and more directly than females.
The male does have some exclusive vocalizations, like tee-ar whistle, and is generally harsher and lower-pitched than the female. Females also have exclusive calls, such as a mechanical rattle call that males seem to lack.
Steller’s jay calls vary regionally and locally, but by studying birds in your area, you’ll start to discern different calls for males and females.
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