The Unmistakable Cry of the Steller's Jay

Photograph by Robert Royse

The Unmistakable Cry of the Steller's Jay

Shipwrecked in what is now Alaska, George Wilhelm Steller named three new bird species in the 1740s.

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Published: 08/13/2012

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This loud, raucous call belongs to a common jay of the Western states, the Steller’s jay.

You might mistakenly call this bird a blue jay, seeing its bright cobalt-blue body. But when the Steller’s jay was first discovered, the name “blue jay” had already been assigned to a different species of jay living in the Eastern United States. 

You might guess that the word “Steller” describes an exceptional jay, but Steller, spelled s-t-e-l-l-E-r, comes instead from a man’s name.

It was back in July of 1741 that George Wilhelm Steller, the first European to set foot on land later known as Alaska, first sighted this jay. Steller was a German naturalist on the St. Peter, a Russian ship exploring the Bering Sea.

Shortly after finding and describing this jay, Steller was shipwrecked on Bering Island for over a year. After enduring a harsh winter and rebuilding their boat, the few survivors, including Steller, returned to Russia.

Steller wrote a book about the creatures that lived on the island. Many were later named for this adventurous and feisty German, among them the Steller’s sea eagle and the Steller’s eider.

There’s more information about the Steller’s jay—and all the other birds named for Steller—on our website, BirdNote.org. I’m Mary McCann.

Sounds of the Steller’s Jay provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call recorded by L.J. Peyton, scold by W.W.H. Gunn. Ambient sounds provided by Kessler Production. Producer: John Kessler; Executive Producer: Chris Peterson; Narrator: Mary McCann; Adapted from a script by Frances Wood

© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org    August 2012

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Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine