Bandelier: Spend A Fall Friday With Our Birdbanding Team

Bandelier Trivia Tuesday hints: (1) A large bird with blue wings, a gray back, and a black crest. (2) The same feather from two angles; the first shows light reflected off the feather; the second shows the feather backlit. Photo Courtesy NPS


Would you like to spend a fall Friday with Bandelier’s bird banding team? Throughout our season, visitors are invited to join a ranger for an early morning program at our fall migration banding station at the Alamo Boundary Trail! To give you an idea of what you might encounter, we present this week’s Bird Trivia Tuesday.

This BTT star does have some stellar plumage, but that is neither the source nor the spelling of its name. The Steller’s Jay was actually named after one of the first European naturalists to describe the bird. While its common name may not clue you in to this jay’s good looks, the genus to which Steller’s and Blue Jays belong, Cyanocitta, is a little more descriptive. It is derived from Greek words meaning “dark blue” and “chattering bird.” After all, these birds are noisy, blue birds, right? Well, not quite. Of the many ‘blue birds’ in the world, none are actually blue. Most birds exhibit their colors from pigments in their feathers. In many blue-colored birds, this pigment is melanin, which is black, gray, or brown. The blue we see on the wings of this jay is what is known as a structural color—we really are seeing blue wavelengths of light reflecting off pockets of air and protein fibers trapped within the feather cells.

Despite their dazzling looks, often the easiest way to find these birds is to listen. In addition to their “sheck sheck” calls, Steller’s Jays are great mimics. Their vocal repertoire can include other birds, mammals, and even mechanical noises, and they are often heard imitating hawks. Theories for this behavior suggest that it could be to warn nearby birds of a hawk sighting, or that it could be to scatter foraging competitors, helping these omnivores get an easier meal.

To learn more about the birds of Bandelier and the importance of bird banding as a survey method, join us each Friday from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the Alamo Boundary Trail. For more information, call the visitor center at (505) 672-3861 x0.