Behavior and Ecology of Steller's Jay

Blue jay uses devious trick to hog food

A series of students and I will investigate mechanisms behind the complex social system and ecological relationships that drive the distribution and dynamics of the local jay population. Jays are wonderful focal animals because they are conspicuous, and travel in pairs and family groups, allowing students to practice monitoring skills. Jays in the Humboldt population live here all year around, allowing us to establish a very detailed investigation. Birds have been fitted with color bands enabling us to track individuals across habitats and through lifetimes.


Harvey D & Black JM 2021. Solvers and scroungers: innovative problem solving in wild Steller’s jays. Behaviour 158:99-122.

Goldenberg W, George TL & Black JM 2016. Space use and behavior of Steller’s jays in campgrounds and non-campground sites within Redwood National and State Parks. Condor 118, 532–541.

Kalinowski RS, Gabriel PO & Black JM 2015. Who’s watching influences caching effort in wild Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri). Animal Cognition DOI: 10.1007/s10071-014-0780-x

Overeem K, Gabriel PA, Zirpoli J & Black JM 2014. Steller sex: infidelity and sexual selection in a social corvid (Cyanocitta stelleri). Plos One 9(8):e105257. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105257

Gabriel PO & Black JM 2013. Correlates and consequences of the pair bond in Steller's jays. Ethology 119, 178-187.

Rockwell C, Gabriel PO & Black JM 2013. Foraging dynamics in Steller's jays: size and viability of cachable food items. Animal Behaviour 86, 783-789.

Zirpoli J, Black JM & Gabriel PO 2013. Parasites and plumage: an experimental field test of parasite-mediated handicap hypothesis. Ethology, Ecology & Evolution 25, 103-116.

Gabriel PO & Black JM 2012. Behavioural syndromes, partner compatibility, and reproductive performance in Steller's jays. Ethology 118, 1-11.

Gabriel PO & Black JM 2012. Reproduction in Steller's jays: individual characteristics and behavioral strategies. Auk 129, 377-386.

Rockwell C, Gabriel PO, Black JM 2012. Bolder, older, and selective: factors of individual specific foraging strategies in Steller's jays. Behavioral Ecology 23, 676-683.

Gabriel PO & Black JM 2010. Behavioural syndrome in Steller's jays: the role of time frames in the assessment of behavioural traits. Animal Behaviour 80, 689-697.

Students will be encouraged to record the location and behavior of individually marked jays. In particular, participation will be encouraged from students in Wildlife Techniques 311, and Wildlife Ethology 475.

bluejay on a fence

Information for Wildlife Ethology students (extra credit)

Reporting color band sightings of Steller's Jays

Color bands

Each bird is fitted with four bands - two on each leg. Three of the four are color bands and one is the USFWS metal band. The order of the bands is recorded from the right leg to the left leg and from bottom band to the top band. An example using codes for different colors, is RPMP in this photo, indicating Red (bottom), Purple (top) on right leg, and Metal (bottom), Purple (top) on the left leg.

The possible colors and codes are: The possible colors and codes are: W=white, B=black, R=red, P=purple, O=orange, L=light-blue, G=dark-green, Y=bright yellow, H=hotpink.

Undergraduate Research (volunteer opportunity)

We are looking for dedicated helpers on this project. Let us know if you’d like watch jays on a regular basis in the semester or during the summer.