Steller's Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are found across western parts of North America, particularly in areas with woodlands. These birds are also known as long-crested jays, mountain jays and pine jays.
Although they're pretty distinctive-looking birds, they can look quite different regionally. Northern populations tend to have more prominent crests than those in the south.
When it comes to their diets, they have a relatively diverse and interesting one, so let's get into it, what do Steller's jays eat?
Steller's jays are omnivorous birds with a broad, varied diet of both plant and animal matter. Their diets are roughly one-third animals and two-thirds plants. Nuts, berries, seeds, fruits and insects are the primary sources of their diets. However, this can vary depending on what's available in their habitat.
Steller's jays are opportunistic hunters, which means their diets a highly variable. They will happily scavenge and eat human foods, including cheese, bread and meat. They are often found foraging at bird feeders, campgrounds and picnic areas.
Pine seeds, acorns and mast seeds are some of the most important food sources for Steller jays. This is because these types of foods are rich in nutrients and help populations thrive.
In some cases, Steller's jays will also eat small reptiles and rodents, including lizards, snakes and mice.
Steller's jay eating an acorn
Wasps, bees, spiders, moths, beetles, caterpillars and moths are the main insects predated and eaten by Steller's jays.
During the spring and summer, you can often observe Steller's jays eating hundreds of bumblebees.
It's common for Steller's jays to take the nestlings and chicks of other birds. These jays have been seen attacking and consuming small birds like the dark-eyed junco and pygmy nuthatch in rare cases.
Although they do sometimes eat other birds, this is generally incidental, and it's when they come across the nests of birds whilst they're searching for their primary types of prey.
This behavior is pretty common with other birds in the jay family, and Steller's jays are much more likely to take nestlings and eggs from other birds during their own breeding and nesting season.
Steller's Jay perched on a branch in Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Steller's jays cache their food during the fall, generally for consumption in autumn and winter, when their primary food sources become more scarce. These caches are usually holes in the ground on in the bark of trees. Acorns and pine seeds are the most common food types cached by these birds.
In some cases, Steller's jays can cache up to 50% of their total winter foods in multiple different locations.
Once food has been pushed into the crevice, Steller's jays will camouflage the cache by covering it with vegetation or by covering over the hole with soil.
Steller's jays are incredibly intelligent when it comes to remembering where their precious store of food is and will use their spatial memory to remember where it is located.
Over 60% of caches are successfully found again, and this can be up to three months after first storing the food in one of these caches. To put things into perspective on how good the memory of a Steller's jay is, squirrels, on average, find less than 40% of their stored food.
Generally speaking, Steller's jays will retrieve all of their food when they visit the cache. This is unlike some other birds and squirrels that will reuse caches multiple times, with frequent visits.
Not only do they retrieve their own caches, but they've also been known to infiltrate and steal food from the caches of other bird species.
A Steller's jay with a nut in beak during the winter
Steller's jays spend time foraging for food on both the ground and in bushes and trees. This behavior changes depending on the time of year, with more ground foraging taking place during the summer and winter and tree foraging more during the fall and spring.
Whilst perched in trees, these birds will catch flies. Insects will generally be hunted whilst they're standing or hovering off the foliage.
On the ground, the primary technique used for finding food is to use their beaks to sort through the leaves with sideways swiping. Another common method is to use their bills to find insects under loose bits of bark by prising it off.
Steller's jays carry off large food items, including nuts off to higher perches. Once they are perched, they will hold the item of food with one of their feet and then repeatedly strike with the bill every so slightly opened.
Steller's jay flying off with a peanut
During the winter, Steller's jays generally consume seeds and nuts, particularly pine seeds and acorns. Berries and wild fruits are also consumed during the colder months, where available.
Foods that are cached - mainly acorns and pine seeds are also eaten by these birds when food sources are less abundant.
Most steller jays are non-migratory, so their habitats don't tend to change much during the winter, and as they're omnivorous, there tends always to be something about that they can eat.
Generally, the northern populations of Steller's jays in higher elevations of the US and Canada will migrate south during the colder months, as these birds don't tend to tolerate the cold too well.
Steller's jay on the ground during winter
During the summer, Steller's jays increase their consumption of insects, but will still continue to eat plant matter, berries, seeds and fruits. The increase in the consumption of insects as they become much more abundant and easier to find.
Wild bees are a common example of this, as, during the spring and summer months, Steller's jays can pick off and eat hundreds of them in one sitting.
Steller's jays drink water, mainly from the edges of ponds, lakes, rivers and bird baths. During the winter, they can often be seen getting their water from snow and ice.
Steller's jay drinking water from a bowl in a garden
There is little known about what baby Steller's jays and fed. However, it's assumed that they'll probably be fed insects by their parents.
As well as the lack of information on what they are fed, there has also been little research into the feeding rates for the chicks too.
When it comes to nesting, Steller's jays are secretive birds and can often nest right near the tops of trees to avoid predation and keep their chicks safe.
The best way to attract Steller's jays is to put out feeders and keep them well stocked with fresh peanuts, suet, nuts, and other large seeds, particularly sunflower seeds. Platform feeders stocked with whole peanuts is another common way to attract them.
Steller's jays are often seen coming to feeders and flying off with large quantities of various large seeds. Usually, this is because they're taking the seeds off to their caches to save food for the autumn and wintertime.
Having a garden with plenty of bushes and trees that can provide shelter is another great way to attract Steller's jays as well as many other species of birds.
Steller's jay eating suet from a bird feeder
Steller's jays are familiar visitors to bird feeders in backyards. The best food to stock feeders with to attract them are sunflower seeds. Suet and peanuts will also be consumed.
Steller's jays regularly eat the eggs and nestlings of hummingbirds.
Generally speaking, adult hummingbirds aren't predated by Steller's jays, as they are pretty agile and quick, and the energy required to capture one wouldn't be worth the effort.
As Steller's jays are opportunistic hunters, mice and small rodents are often on the menu for them.
We recommend feeding Steller's jays cracked corn. They are relatively fond of it and will take it from backyard feeders.
Steller's jays love peanuts, and in fact, it's one of their most preferred foods to eat. Having feeders stocked full of peanuts is a great way to attract these birds.
Steller's Jay eating a peanut
Sunflower seeds are an excellent option to feed steller jays - they simply love them - black oil sunflower seeds can be a great option.
Steller's jays will eat apples, but ensure to cut the apples into small enough pieces and remove the seeds.
Steller's jays will consume meat when available. They are somewhat scavengers and will readily consume scraps left around.
Acorns can be one of the most significant parts of a Steller's jay diet. These large nuts provide great nutritional value to Steller's jays as well as many other types of wild birds.
Acorns are one of the critical components for the winter diet of many birds, as they are high in essential fats and proteins, which help many species survive the harsher winter months.
Steller's jay eating an acorn on the ground
Almonds are a great source of fats and proteins for Steller's jays. They're a great addition to your bird feeders.
Yes, Steller's jay will regularly eat grapes. This is more so during the summer months.
Steller's jays regularly eat bread. However, you shouldn't feed them too much of it. This is because bread fills birds up too much and lacks much nutritional value. Occasionally, in small quantities, bread is acceptable to feed steller jays.
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