Friday, 19 October 2012

Birds in Focus - Jay

Jay at Burrs Country Park (Martyn Jones)
Although they are the most colourful members of the crow family,  Jays are actually quite difficult to see clearly. They are normally a very shy and elusive woodland birds rarely moving far from cover. This means that it is hard to get close to see or photograph them. Most often all that will be seen is the flash of a brownish bird with a white rump as it flies away. The screaming call usually lets you know a Jay is about and it is usually given when a bird is on the move, so watch for a bird flying between the trees with its distinctive flash of white on the rump.

They are found all year round across most of the UK, except northern Scotland and live in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, parks and mature gardens. They particularly like oak trees in autumn when there are plenty of acorns and are often seen flying across a woodland glade giving its screeching call.

Jays become more obvious in autumn when they may fly some distance in the open in search of acorns and there seems to be a influx of these birds in Britain at the moment with large groups being seen in some parts of the country. At this time of year they are busily collecting and storing acorns for the winter, but this year's acorn crop is a poor one and Jays are having to travel considerable distances.  BirdTrack, the BTO's recording system for bird migration and distribution, has had its highest ever recording rate for Jays last week.

Jay (Alan Flavell)
Sightings of high-flying flocks suggest that the acorn crop might also have failed in Europe and Continental Jays are flying here across the North Sea in search of food.  But some birders think that most of these Jays are from inland and, as yet, there have been no large numbers seen coming in off the sea at coastal observatories.

Jays can hoard up to 3,000 acorns in a single month, digging holes with their bills and burying two or three at a time. Most are eaten but the ones that are missed or forgotten are an important way for new oaks to be naturally planted - they are said to be the single most important planter of oak trees in Britain!

The acorn shortage is likely to lead to more Jays visiting gardens in search of food, with their pinky-brown plumage, white rump and black and white wings with a vivid blue flash, they are always a welcome sight.  They are often seen at dawn on autumn mornings looking for the large juicy garden spiders that this season brings, although they do eat almost anything including chicks in springtime.

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