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The jay (scientific name Garrulus glandarius) is the most colourful member of the Corvidae family, which has been around for 10 million years and includes more than 120 endemic species. Unlike others in the crow family that have black plumage (like crows and jackdaws), jays have a very small amount of black feathers.

Jays are also very intelligent, with large brains relative to their body size. Because of their crow-like size, black plumage and intelligence, the Eurasian jays are often thought of as somewhat sinister, feisty birds, similar to ravens.

What Does a Jay Look Like?

Jay bird on branch

The jay is a medium-sized pinkish-brown bird that has a blue patch on the wings and a crest of obvious black streaks on its head which are raised when it is agitated. It has white cheeks, black moustache, black tail and a thick black bill tipped with yellowish-orange.

Female jays are slightly smaller and duller than males. Both male and female jays look alike, but mature females are streaked on their breast, whereas adult males have no streaks.

In terms of size, they can be up to 25 cm long with a wingspan of 44 cm and weighing up to 60 oz.

How Do Jays Act?

Jay on the grass in the summer
Jay on the grass in the summer
  • The jay bird is best known for the loud, screaming call that they make in very early morning hours.
  • They also caw for long periods to communicate territory and ward off other jays. If the jay is threatened, it will also emit an ear-piercing screeching call.
  • The jay bobs its head up and down as it walks and runs, similar to a bobblehead toy for a human; such action gives it its common nickname of “jay bird”.
  • During the Autumn, the Eurasian jay (also known as a blue jay) may form flocks of up to fifty birds. This may happen if the flock becomes trapped in an area by heavy snow or when they form a hunting pack to chase other birds such as starlings.
  • Jays are known for their love of eating acorns, and in the Autumn, it’s common to see them making holes in the ground with their beak and burying acorns. They wait until winter before retrieving them.

What Do Jays Eat?

Jays are omnivorous, feeding on small birds, animals and insects (especially caterpillars). They love to eat small rodents, frogs, snakes, moles, earthworms and grasshoppers. They’ll also happily eat amphibians, reptiles and small mammals, birds’ eggs etc., but also feed on fruits, seeds, berries and nuts when available.

They are known to mimic predators such as hawks or owls to scare other prey into running away, so they are easier to catch or eat themselves. In addition to being a great hunter, the jay bird can be an opportunist when food sources run low or in stressful times (such as after a harsh winter).

Where Do They Live?

Jay in natural habitat (Garrulus Glandarius)

Eurasian jays live in various areas of the UK, such as England and Wales, (but excluding Northern Scotland). Habitats include coniferous woodland, meadows, parks, mature gardens and farms. It is a bird of open country frequented by the males foraging for food. This species of bird will also come to UK towns and urban gardens.

When Do They Mate?

Eurasian jays mating habit. Courtship ritual of pair of jay
Eurasian jays mating habit; courtship ritual

The breeding season of the Eurasian Jay takes place in April and May, when it will search for a suitable mate. They will select another individual that has desirable characteristics such as healthy eyes, good plumage, and the ability to forage well.

The female will choose who she mates with and when she chooses a male, the pair will mate. They will select a nest site together on or near the ground; this may be in an old woodpecker hole or in a tree. The nest is usually located in low shrubs but may be built on taller trees as well.

Where Do Jays Nest?

Wild bird Jay and its nest chicks

The jay uses the canopy of trees for nest construction. They prefer to make their nests in tree cavities but sometimes use buildings and bridges. It is unknown why the jay does not use the same nesting sites year after year; it may do so in response to environmental changes.

The nest is made by hanging a platform of sticks over a cavity or a built-up area. The female usually founds the first site but will often accept another female’s foundling if she feels safe to move there.

The pair will use twigs and leaves that they find nearby and begin building their nest. Before laying eggs, the female will line the nest with grasses, mosses and hair from her chest to insulate it.

What Does a Jay Sound Like?

The British jay bird has a beautiful song; it can be heard in any part of its range. It has been described as “pulsing, booming, or strident” and sounding more like a kwee-kwee than the voice of an actual bird. The male’s song is different from the female’s because he has to sing while courting her.

Both songs are called “calls”. These calls are notes made by the jays in a very loud, clear voice while hopping around on branches.

Sources and References

Jay (Garrulus Glandarius) – woodlandtrust.org.uk

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