Although it is a bit early for us to get our usual avian visitors, we have been getting a few visits lately from Steller’s Jays. It appears that the meal of choice for these members of the jay family is peanuts in the shell. And these guys are very particular about the size and shape of shell they are looking for, as they like to place a minimum of two in their mouths at a time. The first shell has to be small enough to toss to the back of the mouth, leaving room in the beak for at least a second shell. I have even seen one jay try to fit three. Once loaded up, the jay will fly off to some nearby location to store the shells, and quickly return for more.
The first time I ever saw a Steller’s Jay was in Mt. Rainier National Park. I was visiting my friend Ben Hohman, who lives in Aberdeen on the bottom of the Olympic Peninsula, and we were visiting the nearby Cascade Range giant. It was a clear, sunny day, and we had stopped at a pullout. The Steller’s Jay was there, hopping around, busily checking out possible food sources on the ground, then up to a rock wall, then over to a branch on a tall pine tree. The jay froze long enough for me to capture an image of him with Rainier in the background. For years, it was my only sighting of a Steller’s Jay. All I had to remember of their vibrant, glistening deep blue feathers was that shot.
Then, many years later, Michelle and I purchased our current home near Jewel Lake in Anchorage. We had the usual visitors to our bird feeders last winter: black-capped and boreal chickadees, nuthatches, and gross beaks. The cats came to love this aspect about our new home, a bird feeder ledge just right outsdide the window where the cats could watch, chirp, and sometimes pounce (with no success other than producing a solid “thump” on the glass and scaring the birds away for a time). Then we started to see the tall, dark blue, inquisitive and very crafty Steller’s Jays. (Although, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Anchorage is on the outer edge of the Steller’s Jay range.) It did not seem to phase the cats that these new visitors were considerably larger than the other birds, and sometimes almost as big as the cats themselves.
Our most recent visitor was particularly busy. When he nearly exhausted our already-low peanut supply on the ledge, I went out to dump some more on to the ledge. I was not even back to the window from the inside when he was back again at the feeder, busily picking through the new selection. After five or six visits, I went and grabbed my camera to snap a few shots. He came back about three more times before Menshe jumped up to the shelf on the inside of the window, spooking him off. I expected the jay to return once he realized that Menshe was not a threat, so I stood and waited, hoping to get a shot of Menshe looking out the window at the jay on the feeder. After about ten minutes, the jay did not return.
I know that winter will soon be upon us, and the myriad of other birds who visit our property will return for their usual frenzy feeding. In the meantime, I will take comfort in and enjoy our deep blue Steller’s Jay visitors. I will take comfort in knowing that we are providing them a means of surviving, while they provide us company and great entertainment. One of these days, I hope to see where it is – and it is not too far away – that they fly to store those peanuts.