Montana Outdoors

December 28, 2012

Fooled me!

Filed under: Birds — Tags: , — montucky @ 10:41 pm

As I walked along a road this morning I heard the loud cry of a Red-tailed Hawk, so loud that I knew it must be close; but look as I would I couldn’t locate the caller. Then I caught sight of a bird about 30 feet away that I had been searching for earlier, one rarely seen in this area and when I focused on him I could see that it was he who was making the call.

Cornell’s website All About Birds enabled me to identify the caller as a Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), a bird found only west of the Rocky Mountains and in the section of “sounds” on the site there was a call they noted as “mimicking Red-tailed Hawk”.

Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri )

Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri )


  1. That’s the kind of jay we have here on the coast. We don’t have the eastern bluejay but we have Steller’s jays. They’re beautiful and you’ve captured some nice shots of this one. Looks so pretty in the snow.

    Comment by wordsfromanneli — December 28, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    • I’ve only seen the Steller’s a couple of times. Every couple of years we will get a visit from an eastern jay. We do have a lot of their cousins the Clark’s Nutcrackers though.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 12:05 am

      • The only time I’ve seen eastern bluebirds is on trips to Montana.

        Comment by wordsfromanneli — December 29, 2012 @ 12:11 am

        • I would have to look very closely to tell an eastern bird from the western bird that is plentiful here. We also have a lot of Mountain bluebirds.

          Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 12:21 am

  2. Great shot of this jay I have never seen. I have heard Eastern Bluejays mimic the screech of hawks. My favorite mimc is performed by the Yellow Breasted chat when it mimics a flock of crows calling. I too looked and looked for the crows only to realize it was a Yellow Breasted Chat in the tree above me.

    Comment by Grampy — December 29, 2012 @ 6:12 am

    • This jay resides quite a ways west of you I think. I’m astounded by the variety of calls that birds make. I’m very used to hearing eagles discuss things among themselves and I picked up on the Red-tail’s (I thought) voice right away. What a surprise to hear it come from the jay.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  3. So sweet. Unknown to me but enjoyd the photos.

    Comment by bentehaarstad — December 29, 2012 @ 6:26 am

    • The range of this jay is a fairly narrow band from the northern part of Canada down through the far western part of the US and clear on down through Central America. A rather strange range pattern.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  4. I’ve never heard of, or even seen pictures of this bird. Thanks for the introduction!

    Comment by New Hampshire Gardener — December 29, 2012 @ 6:43 am

    • It has a strange range, very tall and narrow. I wonder why. But then we very seldom see a regular Blue Jay here.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

  5. I was so excited yesterday, after grocery shopping I zipped around the park to see if Mr. Eagle was there, and instead saw 4 swans!! I drove/sped to my house to grab my camera, and in the brief 90 seconds I was gone, they flew away. I was sooooo bummed. I totally forgot I could have used my phone, but I thought they would stick around for at least a few more minutes. Seeing swan here is as rare a treat as seeing the eagle. Your winter is chuck full of surprise visitors, how fun to see that little owl and now this jay. :)

    Comment by Homestead Ramblings — December 29, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    • Isn’t it wonderful though to be so excited about seeing things like that! Sooner or later you will get the shots, but first comes the passion for the creatures.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

  6. Oh what a beautiful bird. How lucky for you to not only see and hear it but to get such a great shot as well. I only have sparrows here in town, brown and boring but cute as well. Especially when they approach the window to torment the cat!

    Comment by roberta — December 29, 2012 @ 7:45 am

    • The visit from the jay was a real treat, but the sparrows are the really solid ones, the little friends who are always there. Who could ever say that the one is more than the others?

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

  7. Steller’s Jays live in New Mexico, too — we saw one in the Jemez at Battleship Rock last fall – like the Pinon and Scrub Jays, are scroungers who get used to stealing food from picnics, bold ones who even walk on picnic tables. The one we saw came and perched on a Ponderosa high but close enough to get a view of what we were eating.
    Which reminds me, in time of drought, seems like wild birds get affected as well – their food supplies deplete. I have been watching huge flocks of Crows devour pecans from a grove nearby and seem to have stripped it clean. Haven’t noticed them doing it before this year quite at this frenzy.

    Comment by C.C. — December 29, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    • The whole jay family are bold ones, aren’t they. I remember from my childhood my father calling them “camp robbers” and that tickled my fancy. I’ve enjoyed seeing them ever since.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

  8. How charming. I just read “What the Robin Knows” and he indicates the mimicry of jays. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by badwalker — December 29, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    • I was astounded at how well the mimicking was. He had me convinced that there was a hawk near by. I guess they have many other voices as well.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

  9. Beautiful bird, beautiful photo.

    Comment by Teresa Evangeline — December 29, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    • As with most birds, I admire his attitude. That is perhaps their greatest gift to us.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  10. We have scrub jays, green jays and blue jays, but no Stellar’s. I did smile at your being “fooled”, though. For some time I kept hearing a beautiful, musical call, and didn’t have a clue what it was. I thought it might have been a creative mockingbird. Turns out it was the blue jay! Here’s a nice link that has their various calls and songs all lined up.

    Comment by shoreacres — December 29, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    • Steller’s live just to the west of you from what I’ve read. Once every year or so a blue jay will visit here and even the Steller’s is a rare visitor locally. The nutcrackers though take their place and hold up the jay traditions very well. Every summer I spend an hour or so on a perch just off a favorite trail where the mountain peak is still nearly a thousand feet above and the cliff bottom almost that far below. The Nutcrackers will sail past in a power dive from above and then turn and sit on the tops of firs a dozen yards away. I wish so much that I could do that.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

  11. Over the years we have had a lot of these jays here in Clark Fork, Idaho. They used to pick up hazelnuts from our neighbors tree and bring them to our brick wall and crack them open and eat them.We also have Red-Tailed hawks around Antelope mountain here in C F . Thanks for the beautiful photo..
    Frances from Idaho

    Comment by Anonymous — December 29, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    • We have lots of Red-tails here but not often do we get to see the jays. They are sure fun to watch! Have a great new year, Frances!

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

  12. Beautiful photos of the bird. I wonder why they make that call…?

    Comment by Sue — December 29, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

    • I’ve read that they use that call to alert other jays to the presence of a hawk, but the one I heard was solitary. I wonder if perhaps mimicking the call of a Red-tail might be to keep other smaller hawks away.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

  13. Great jay spotting Montucky! We are still thrilled to see a cardinal in our yard and often do have red tail hawks.

    Comment by Tammy — December 29, 2012 @ 7:08 pm

    • We have lot of Red-tails, but see a cardinal only every several years.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  14. It’s a beauty! I forget what lens you use?… and on a tripod I would hope?

    Comment by kcjewel — December 29, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

    • The telephoto lens that I have is a Nikon 70-300mm VR. These shots were hand-held. Seems like I never have the time to use a tripod, but the VR really works well, especially when there is enough light to enable a fast shutter speed.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

  15. Wow, I didn’t know that Jays could mimic other birds. I know Mockingbirds do but had never heard about Jays. Will have to learn more about that. We have Western Scrub Jays and when I’m in the Sierra we see the Stellars Jays. Both are agressive and fun to watch.

    Comment by anniespickns — December 29, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

    • This guy has been hanging around an area just up the road from me and I’ve been around him several times. I first pick up on his hawk imitation, but then I’ve heard a variety of other vocalizations. Pretty cool bird!

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

  16. how wonderful that you thought you heard a red tail and that these birds can sound like them.
    we saw some of these jays this autumn and none of us could remember seeing them here before. lovely photos.

    Comment by Tammie — December 29, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

    • I wish I knew a whole lot more about birds. I wonder why we get such infrequent visits. Ten years ago we had a scarlet tanager nest in a fir tree in our yard, but I haven’t seen one here since.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

  17. how interesting

    Comment by skouba — December 29, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    • Seems like there is always something interesting coming up, but then I wonder how many things I miss!

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:54 pm

  18. What lovely shots!!! I’ve never seen this jay, but I’m often fooled by our jays and their hawk calls… They have fun, I think. :)

    Comment by FeyGirl — December 29, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

    • I love the boldness and the spirit of the jay family, although they don’t always get along too well with other birds.

      Comment by montucky — December 29, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

      • It’s odd, b/c our jays are quite timid — easily spooked by the other birds. But as with other corvids, so very clever… :)

        Comment by FeyGirl — December 31, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  19. What a lovely bird! I love his white eyebrows!

    Comment by Jo Woolf — December 30, 2012 @ 1:51 am

  20. What an absolute beauty. I’ve never seen one quite like him. And – that you managed to capture him in the snow – WOW!! Wishing you and yours all the best in this up and coming new year!!

    Comment by Marcie — December 30, 2012 @ 5:22 am

    • I seldom see this bird too, but I enjoy it when I do. Have a very happy new year, Marcie!

      Comment by montucky — December 30, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

  21. He is a very pretty bird–one that we don’t have here.

    Comment by kateri — December 30, 2012 @ 7:06 am

    • These live strictly west of the Rockies. That makes me wonder why such a distinct division between them and the blue jays.

      Comment by montucky — December 30, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

  22. He’s a handsome bird. I never see bluebirds of any type here in AZ. I love Cornell’s website, too, for bird ID-ing. It’s always so fun to be able to identify what you just saw. That’s one of the best things about having the internet at our disposal.

    Comment by Candace — December 30, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

    • The internet can be a magnificent knowledge tool. I wish i had access to it when I was a kid and when my children were small.

      Comment by montucky — December 30, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

  23. Haven’t seen one of those western blue jays for years. They’re a bit more striking than their eastern cousins.

    Comment by knightofswords — December 30, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

    • I think the regular blue jays are prettier, but these guys are more dramatic with their dark capes.

      Comment by montucky — December 30, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  24. Oh my goodness, that Stellar’s Jay is….well…stellar! So pretty. We have a bird feeder on one of our maple trees near the house and the other day there were 5 cardinals there. I got so excited and grabbed my camera. Well, first off, I scared them away in my excitement. Then I patiently stood quiet as could be in the falling snow and waited until they returned. But I need a telephoto lens because I couldn’t get close enough to get a close-up of them. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a telephoto for next year’s Christmas present? Any suggestions?

    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — December 31, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    • I envy you seeing the cardinals. One will visit here only every few years.

      There are a lot of good lenses out there. The one I use, and I really like it, is a Nikon 70-300mm VR. It gives nice clear pictures and I especially like the vibration reduction because nearly all of the pictures I take are hand-held.

      Comment by montucky — December 31, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

  25. I just love this one! Caught a blue jay myself earlier this year. It was windy and having a bad hair day ;) Love the colors of this particular jay.

    Comment by Debby — December 31, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

    • This one is clearly different than the blue jay and their ranges are entirely separate, something I find really interesting.

      Comment by montucky — December 31, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  26. What a beautiful bird, Steller’s Jay. I haven’t seen this Jay before and sounds like a red-tailed hawk. The red-tailed hawk is a favorite of mine and for awhile this year, I had one that was practically a resident and it went after the Blue Jays. I would love to see the Steller’s Jay and hear it. Really great shots, Montucky!

    Comment by Anna Surface — December 31, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

    • I saw the jay again today and he was using his hawk call. I bet he uses that call to confuse the hawks. He seems to have a number of other calls as well. I’ve been able to keep him in sight long enough to listen to severl of them.

      Comment by montucky — December 31, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

  27. A very striking bird- in the east, we’re short on Jays, with only Blue Jays to keep us company.

    Comment by Watching Seasons — December 31, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

    • We don’t have the blue jays here other than an occasional visit from one. THere are lots of their cousins the Clark’s Nutcrackers though.

      Comment by montucky — December 31, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  28. Gorgeous bird, gorgeous photos – and thank you for giving a link to that site – I have discovered one can set all the audio clips on one page to play at the same time – it’s like being in a forest! :)

    If I’ve not already said so – happy new year!

    Comment by Val — December 31, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

    • The audio clips are really helpful, aren’t they. Happy New Year to you too Val!

      Comment by montucky — December 31, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  29. I have seen some jays out here, too, Terry, but only in the winter. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but that’s the only time I’ve seen them. Very nice photos….

    Comment by seekraz — January 1, 2013 @ 10:34 am

    • I see them very infrequently here and it doesn’t seem to be season related. This one is staying around so far, but just the one.

      Comment by montucky — January 1, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

      • How odd that there would only be one.

        Comment by seekraz — January 2, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

        • Yes, I find that odd too. Haven’t seen him the last two days so maybe he has moved on now.

          Comment by montucky — January 2, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

  30. Sweet images Terry !!

    Comment by Bernie Kasper — January 2, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

  31. Never seen it. Your photos are top photos!

    Comment by Sartenada — January 4, 2013 @ 12:37 am

    • Thanks Matti. I understand this bird is quite common along the rocky mountains but I seldom see one here for some reason.

      Comment by montucky — January 4, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

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