This Fall there has been a pronounced movement of Steller's Jay into numerous localities across the region that usually do not have birds present. It has been generally assumed that these are birds moving attitudinally rather than from a distance, but perhaps this is an assumption that should be reassessed in the light of information available

Currently there are sixteen (16) subspecies of Steller's Jay, ranging south all the way to Nicaragua, with five (5) in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin as follows:

Above we stated that Cyanocitta stelleri annectens is found s. to northern Idaho.¹ According to Thomas D. Burleigh,² and more current field observation, this subspecies is found throughout the montane areas of southern Idaho also and is probably the only race normally resident in the state. The most telling field mark to look for, especially at this time of year when all birds of the year have finished molt into Basic I plumage (which is also similar to the Definitive Basic plumage of all adults), is a whitish area above the eye, but no white spot below the eye (this second white area would be characteristic of the Rocky Mountain race, C. s. macrolopha). Birds in Idaho or east that do not show any white in the ocular area should be also be carefully noted, because they might possibly be of the subspecies C. s. frontalis, usually found in the mountains of central Oregon south.

Needless to say, the higher than usual numbers of Steller's Jay being reported by various observers in coastal areas of Oregon and Washington, where the nominate Cyanocitta stelleri stelleri is resident should also be carefully scrutinized for recognizable field marks of subspecies from further east

Please note that Steller's Jay systematics are not clearly defined and often poorly understood, with the subspecies being clinal and known to intergrade and overlap. Browning ³ provides the most recent treatment of the systematics of the species.



¹ Greene, E., W. Davison, and V.R. Muehter. 1998. Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). In The Birds of North America, No. 343 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA

² Burleigh, T.D. 1972. Birds of Idaho. Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho.

³ Browning, M.R. 1993. Taxonomy of the blue-crested group of Cyanocitta stelleri (Steller’s Jay) with a description of a new subspecies. Bull. Br. Ornithol. Club 113:34–41

I currently have received photos of at least three birds (below) that definitely are C. s. macrolopha, strongly suggesting a movement of birds into this area from more eastern mountains rather than just an altitudinal dispersion.  It would be very instructive to have further documentation (photos and/or descriptions) relating to the birds that are currently being seen in the region(s).  To see further numbers and reports of this species as winter 2004 / 2005 progresses, view the REPORTS page on

Steller's Jay C.s. macrolopha, October 24, 2004
Genesee, Latah County, Idaho
Photo © 2004 Terry Gray
Steller's Jay C.s. macrolopha, November 2004
Spokane, Spokane County, Washington
Photo © 2004 Michael Woodruff
Steller's Jay C.s. macrolopha, October 2004
Garden Valley, Boise Valley, Idaho
Photo © 2004 Sheri Foote

All data compiled and maintained by Harry Krueger. Please notify your local listserv or Harry about Steller's Jays you encounter anywhere in the West this winter.

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