Steller’s Jays are lovely dark blue jays with delicate barring on their wings and tails and striking white or silver streaks on their foreheads and above their eyes. You can see all of these characteristics here. Experts report that females sport finer barring than males do, but I’d be hard-pressed to see that in the field. As noted in the overview article, the more western subspecies of Steller’s Jays have solid dark heads. But juveniles of the subspecies found in our area don’t have the white streaks either. You can see this in this photo. Note the light color at the corner of its beak. Those are what is called the “gape flanges”—light colors that line the edges of the bird’s mouth when it begs (or gapes) for food. Those light gape flanges are easy ways to identify this bird as a youngster of our local birds rather than a member of the western subspecies.
As is true of many jays, the Steller’s Jay has a wide repertoire of calls that are very hard to describe in human terms. I hear two calls rather frequently, so let’s limit the discussion to those. One is a deep, percussive, strange-sounding rattle, sound a bit like “tloc, tloc, tloc.” (See? I told you they were hard to express in human terms.) So far, I haven’t found a recording of this call on the Internet, but I’ll keep looking (er, listening). This call is primarily given by females; so if you hear it, you don’t need to bother with trying to decide if the barring is fine or not. The second is the very common “shook-shook-shook” call; you can hear that here. As is true with several jay species, Steller’s Jays can be accomplished mimics of other birds. Click here for a short recording of a Steller’s doing a very decent impression of a Red-tailed Hawk.