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Birds of the Western Slope September 2, 2015

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Photo by DollarPhoto Steller's Jay

Steller's Jay

A flash of blue across the road ahead of me. Too large to be a bluebird ... maybe Steller's Jay? That's likely, since I'm driving along Highway 65 on top of the Grand Mesa, so I'm at the right elevation. Now I can see him moving through the spruce-fir forest to my right. Look for a place to pull off the road.

My bird is perched in a spruce tree ... toward the top but low enough to keep an eye on me. He blends with the foliage so well. If he moves, I lose track of him! And that reminds me of a new word that I found recently: monomorphic. "Mono" means "one" as in monologue, and "morphic" means "form", so the Steller's Jay is "monomorphic." That is, the sexes look alike, so I'll just call my bird "she."

Names again! When I first met this bird, I thought the name was "stellar's" referring to the white markings on the face. Can't see any on this bird, but I'm sure the markings are there. I thought the name referred to "star-like." But no! The bird is named in honor of George Wilhelm Steller, the 19th century German naturalist who took part in Bering's expedition. A sea cow, a sea lion and a sea duck are also named for Steller. The scientific name, Cyanocitta cristata, translates as "dark blue, crested jay."

Now my bird flutters down to a rock ... watches me ... I know that she is looking for a handout, for these birds eat anything that they can catch (more politely, they're omnivorous).

My jay is a member of a worldwide group of birds known as the Crow famver as well as all of the jays. Many of them hoard food, especially acorns and pine nuts, or steal from the caches of other birds. They're also known to prey on eggs and nestlings -- an unpleasant trait to us, but it's surprisingly common in the natural world: Sandhill cranes take eggs and nestlings of the red-winged blackbird.

Now she leaves me. Something on the road has attracted her attention and she pecks at the nearby pavement. Suddenly the crest rises. She takes off into the dark forest, and a car appears on the highway. A fun, but brief experience for me.

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Evelyn Horn
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