The Jay - Britain's colourful crow


The Jay - Britain's colourful crow

The most colourful members of the crow family, jays are noisy and flamboyant, though much shyer than the other crows. They are woodland birds, rarely moving far from the cover of trees, and therefore less seen for their attractive plumage than the other mostly black crows.

The screaming call of the jay often lets you know one is nearby, and is usually given when a bird is on the move, so it's a clue to watch out for a bird flying between the trees with the distinctive flash of white on its rump, and main pale pink plumage and black tail. Its head has a pale crown with black streaks, and black facial markings and bill. Its wings are black and white with a panel of distinctive electric-blue feathers.

Jays are famous for their acorn feeding habits, and in the autumn you may see them burying acorns for retrieving to eat later in the winter. Forgotten snacks are credited with the rapid spread of oaks after the last Ice Age. Jays also eat invertebrates, especially caterpillars and beetles.

They are resident in most areas of the UK all year round, apart from northern areas of Scotland, altogether numbering approximately 170,000 breeding pairs. Due to harsher winters and lower stocks of acorns, other Jays do sometimes come to the UK from northern Europe in sudden bursts of large flocks.

Jays nest and breed in large shrubs, laying typically between four to six eggs. Their lifespan is thought to be about four years in the wild.

Jays are masters of planning, with incredible foresight and a depth of self-control unseen among many other birds species. In one experiment, Jays were faced with a series of different foods (peanuts, raisins etc) to see if they could be sorted and stored onto various different trays. This the Jays did, showing a level of anticipation not seen elsewhere. The food was stored for later consumption, similar to storing food domestically for a week's meals.

With an excellent level of mimicry and vocalisation, Jays can express a range of emotions such as anger, playfulness and affection.

Further reading

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