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 Jay - Fact File


Garrulus glandarius
Widespread resident throughout most of Britain, with numbers increased during periodic invasions of Continental birds
Woodland, especially where oaks are present, but also large parks in urban areas.

Colourful and distinctive when seen well. Often, owing to it's shy and wary nature, all that is seen is the white rump and black tail as it flies away in characteristic bouncy fashion. Calls harsh and loud.

34 cm


Did you know that the jay 'is one of the most important natural planters of acorns... and the distribution of several oak species is quite dependent on its presence'?

This fact, and many more, is contained in Crows and Jays, a guide to the crows, jays and magpies of the world, by Steve Madge (1994). This book is exquisitely illustrated by Hilary Burn.

The jay is one of the most widespread members of the crow family, occupying woodland as diverse as the Siberian taiga and the rain-forests of Thailand. Shy and wary, typically one first notices a jay dashing through the trees uttering harsh screams of alarm.

Gatherings of up to 30 jays form around March. These comprise unmated birds seeking partners. Smaller groups usually consist of an unmated female courted by unmated males.

In autumn and winter large numbers of acorns are brought back to the jays' territories and hidden for future retrieval. It has been estimated that a single jay could 'plant' up to 3000 acorns in a single month. On occasions, jays become bold, visiting garden bird tables for scraps. Several correspondents made reference to this habit when reporting siskins and long-tailed tits feeding on peanuts.

Jay in flightJays are reluctant to leave the shelter of woodlands. When venturing across clearings and roads, they do so one at a time, the following bird not breaking cover until the previous one has made it safely across. Flight is laboured and flapping, but when on migration it is much more direct.

Irruptions of northern jays are reported from time to time following acorn crop failure. During the autumn of 1993 an arrival of continental jays became apparent during late September with further arrivals until mid-October. As many as 90 headed west at Sheringham during a single day. The most recent large-scale irruption of jays took place in autumn 1983 and consisted of birds moving west in vast numbers across Poland and Scandinavia towards our shores.

Many were observed coming in off the sea locally. The most impressive totals were recorded in south-west England: a flock of 1000 settled in fields near Land's End and 3000 headed west past Plymouth in flocks of up to 300 birds. The numbers recorded reaching Norfolk (perhaps 1500 in total) were less spectacular but just as dramatic.

Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.