Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
During a recent visit Rocky Mountain National Park, I hiked the short 1.1 miles to Dream Lake to catch a Greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish. The fishing was slow, and I got bored, so I started looking beyond the water while I waited for the fish to get hungrier. During one random glance along the lake’s rocky shoreline, I spied a Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), a common bird in the Western United States, but rather eye-catching with its triangular crest and rich blue and charcoal coloring.
Named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who first recorded them in the mid-1700’s, Steller’s jays nest in conifers at elevations below 10,000 feet, and make frequent trips to the forest floor to forage for food, including human food. These brave omnivores gladly scavenge crumbs around campgrounds and picnic areas and will nab other unguarded edibles as well. They’ll also scavenge trash to interior decorate their nests. Without human contact, they dine on nuts, berries, insects and the occasional small amphibian.
Considered a resident bird that doesn’t migrate, Steller’s jays will move to lower elevations when winter sets in. Though the nights are now below freezing at Dream Lake, this one didn’t seem anxious to head down valley just yet. He’ll likely stick around until the hikers and anglers quit for the winter, and snow covers the picnic scraps.