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Jay

Eurasian Jay Jay Both Sexes
Pinkish brown, white chin, black moustache, and blue patch on wings.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Garrulus glandarius
Length: 35 cm  (14")
Wing Span: 52-58 cm  (21-23")
Weight: 140-190 g  (5-6¾ oz)
Breeding Pairs: 160 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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Description

The Jay is a colourful crow that is about the same size as a Jackdaw.

They are mostly a pinkish brown, the underparts being slightly paler. The head has a black and white flecked crown, black moustache and white throat. The white rump contrasts starkly with the black tail. The iris of the eye is a pale blue, the bill is black and the legs are pink-brown. The wings are mostly black with white patches but also have striking blue patches, but close to these wing patches are actually bands of graduated shades of blue:

Primary Covert of Jay

The Jay can raise its crown feathers to a crest when excited or displaying. Perhaps for this reason, novice birdwatchers sometimes confuse Jays with Hoopoes.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Alarm Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

Jays are very sociable birds and so have many different calls, and can imitate other birds, especially other crows. In the garden, we are more likely to hear their "krar krar" alarm call.

During the latter part of the winter, you may be lucky enough to hear their song, which comprises squeaky, clucking sounds.

Feeding

Jays feed on acorns, beech mast, fruits, insects, small rodents, bats, newts, birds' eggs and young birds. In the garden they will take peanuts and kitchen scraps.

Food, especially acorns, is hoarded and may be hidden in crevices or buried in the ground. Research has shown that Jays can store and, more importantly, retrieve several thousand acorns.

Nesting

The untidy nest of twigs is built by both birds in a tree or shrub. Roots, hairs and fibres are used to line the nest. The male and female usually pair for life.

The eggs of the Jay are about 32 mm by 23 mm in size, and are smooth, glossy, and pale blue-green or olive with buff-coloured speckles. The duties of incubating the eggs are performed by the female. The newly-hatched young are fed by both adults.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
late April 1 3-10 16-17 19-20

Movements

The majority of the British population is sedentary, but Continental birds are irruptive when there is a poor acorn harvest and may arrive in large numbers along the east coast of Britain in the autumn.

Conservation

Like other crows, the Jay was persecuted by gamekeepers in its traditional habitat where it took the eggs and young birds of game birds, but also by fishermen who used its brightly coloured feathers for fly-fishing.

The move into urban woodlands has provided them with a safer habitat and, compared with the Jays in the countryside, Jays in towns are doing well. The downside is that Jays may soon be hated as much as Magpies as more people witness them taking eggs and young birds.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

Before 1998 Jays never visited the garden. Why they started suddenly to visit, we do not know, but one explanation is that they had depleted their stores of acorns, etc., and moved into the gardens in search of food. The Magpies used to chase them off, but then the Jays started to stand their ground and even retaliate. Nowadays, the Magpies rarely bother the Jays when they are visiting the garden.

The number of Jays visiting in Winters of 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005 was greater than in other winters owing to the failure of beech mast and acorn crops in woodland areas.

The Jays tend to visit the garden in pairs, though there are often three or four birds and then some rivalry becomes apparent - one or more birds of an assumed pair chasing the others.

Like most crows, the Jay is intelligent and, after a few weeks practising and watching smaller birds, the Jays mastered extracting peanuts from a red peanut bag hung from a clothes post. The peanuts were either eaten straightaway or carried away in their crop to stash away for later when times are hard; we have seen a Jay take as many as twenty-one peanuts in its crop. The red peanut bag has eventually been replaced with a wire basket, see photo below.


Last revision: 01 Jul 2010
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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