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BirdNote: Steller’s Birds

Air Date: Week of

A Steller's Jay, named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, the first European to set foot on the land later known as Alaska. (Photo: Gregg Thompson)

Some birds’ names reflect their habitat, like the Sage Grouse, or, like the Chickadee, their song, but as Mary McCann comments, some memorialize intrepid bird-lovers like Georg Wilhelm Steller.

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CURWOOD: Many birds are named for the place they live --- think the Sage Grouse – or for the sounds they make – like the Chickadee. Then there are some, as Mary McCann reminds us, that memorialize ardent birdwatchers and bird-lovers.

Steller’s Birds

[Steller’s Jay calling]

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

[Steller’s Jay calling]

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, [Steller’s Jay scolding] 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 Georg 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.

The Steller’s Sea Eagle also bears the name of the adventurous German naturalist who explored the Bering Sea on the St. Peter. (Photo: Gregg Thompson)

[Waves and creaking of a ship]

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.

I’m Mary McCann.

Adapted from a script by Frances Wood
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
© 2005-2017 Tune In to Nature.org July 2017


CURWOOD: And for photos, soar on over to our web site, loe.org.



The Steller’s Birds story on the BirdNote website

About the Steller's Jay from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds

Atlas Obscura: “Shipwrecks, Scurvy, and Sea Otters: The Tale of the First European in Alaska”


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