A shy bird, the jay (Garrulus glandarius) can be difficult to spot. Jays are highly intelligent members of the crow family with demonstrably big mouths! Their screaming will alert you to their presence. You can’t miss this sound as it is a harsh, rasping screech. Jays are also skilled mimics, often copying the calls of other birds. The jay boasts pretty pale pink plumage, a black tail and a white rump. Its head has a pale crown with black streaks and black facial markings. Its wings are black and white with a panel of distinctive electric-blue feathers. Jays are around 35cm in length and have wingspans of approximately 55cm.
The jay’s natural habitat is broadleaf woodland but these birds are also found in conifer woodland, scrub and even in urban areas. They rarely move far from cover and are notable for hoarding acorns which they retrieve during the winter months.
What is the Jay’s distribution and population?
The Eurasian jay is found throughout western Europe and North Africa. It can also be seen in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia. Jays are present in most of the UK except northern Scotland. This bird’s population is currently stable. However, the loss of wooded habitats and poor acorn crops are threat to jays. There are thought to be 170,000 breeding pairs in the UK at present. The majority of the British population of jays us sedentary, but birds from further afield are irruptive when there is a poor acorn harvest in their native territories and may arrive in large numbers along the east coast of Britain in the autumn.
What do jays eat?
Jays feed both in trees and on the ground, eating various invertebrates, many of which are pest insects and so these birds are helpful to agriculture. Jays love acorns more than any other food but will also feast on various seeds and fruits, baby birds, eggs, bats and small rodents. Their habit of pinching eggs could see them disliked as much as magpies.
It can be hard to attract jays to your garden as these birds don’t like to leave the cover of their woodland habitat but peanuts and mealworms might tempt them to your property. Jays are known to be greedy birds and so those tasty treats could see them overcome their instinct to remain hidden.
Where do Jays nest?
Jays nests in trees or large shrubs. They construct untidy nests of twigs which are built by both birds using roots, hairs and fibres as lining. These birds usually lay 4–6 eggs which hatch after 16–19 days. Chicks fledge after 21–23 days. Both sexes typically feed the young.
Did you know?
The jay’s habit of burying acorns has been credited with causing the rapid spread of oaks after the last Ice Age.
The Jay can raise its crown feathers to a crest when excited or displaying for mating.