The Garrulous Jay

By David Tomlinson

David Tomlinson has been occupied with birds for so long as he can bear in mind, and has been writing about them for nearly as lengthy. An annual spotlight is listening to his first Cuckoo of the yr at dwelling in Suffolk, England, which he charges as nearly as thrilling as watching White-necked Rockfowls in Ghana or Steller’s Eiders in North Norway. A former tour chief, he has seen an terrible lot of birds all over the world, and desires he may bear in mind extra of them.

Some years in the past, when there was a transfer to revise and modernize English fowl names, there was a suggestion that the Jay must be referred to as the Acorn Jay, to distinguish it from its 4 Asian cousins which can be additionally members of the Garrulus genus (the Plain-crowned Jay, White-face Jay, Black-headed Jay and Amami Jay). The proposal didn’t catch on, so it ended up because the Eurasian Jay, certainly one of 48 birds, in accordance with HBW, which have the quite boring moniker Eurasian in entrance of their names. After all, Acorn Jay would have been acceptable, as there’s nothing this fowl likes greater than acorns, as I used to be reminded throughout a latest go to to the Greek island of Kefalonia. The island is roofed in evergreen oak bushes (Quercus ilex), and these bushes present a prolific crop of acorns for the Jays to take pleasure in.

The Jay’s enthusiasm for acorns is effectively documented, and they’ll begin harvesting them as quickly as they’re ripe, flying off with as many as six or seven within the gullet and one other within the invoice. Every one will probably be fastidiously cached, and the good majority will probably be recovered, and eaten, in the course of the lean months of winter.

Jays clearly have a outstanding reminiscence for the place they retailer their acorns, however invariably some will stay buried, and plenty of of Britain’s oak forests (and presumably lots of Eurasia’s oak forests) are thought to have been planted by Jays. Observers have famous these colourful crows flying as much as 18km from side to side from an previous oakwood when accumulating acorns.

They’re usually shy and comparatively secretive woodland birds, however at the moment of the yr when they’re in full acorn-collecting mode, they develop into a lot bolder and extra conspicuous. It’s a unique matter within the spring. Within the distant days once I used to take part in fowl races, discovering a Jay in Could was all the time a problem. I bear in mind as soon as reaching over 130 species (a very good complete for a Could Day in England) with out having seen or heard a Jay, regardless of spending time in oak woodland. We discovered one ultimately,  which was an important reduction as it might have been a foul fowl to have missed.

I’m certain that if Jays had a voice as lovely as their plumage they’d have extra admirers, however these noisy birds’ calls are typically described as ugly, harsh, and raucous,  whereas they didn’t get the identify Garrulus for nothing. Within the spring, although, Jays can shock you with their quite unlikely music, described by BWP (Birds of the Western Palearctic) as a “medley of mimicked calls and phrases”. Jays are extraordinarily good mimics, which Merlin customers ought to concentrate on.

Whereas all of us take pleasure in seeing Jays in our gardens within the autumn, they’re much less well-liked within the spring. David Bannerman, writing 70 years in the past within the first quantity of The Birds of the British Isles, famous that the Jay “is a frequent pilferer of gardens and orchards” and “an unscrupulous arch-egg-robber. Not solely eggs however nestling birds of many species fall prey to the Jay.” I bear in mind Eric Hosking, Britain’s first skilled fowl photographer, telling me that he a lot most well-liked working in woods the place gamekeepers shot and trapped the Jays.  Right here there was significantly much less probability of the fowl whose nest he was photographing being raided. Lots of Eric’s basic pictures had been of birds at their nest, taken from a disguise. He labored with quick lenses on full-plate cameras, so needed to be near his topic.

Jays have an infinite vary and actually do stay as much as being Eurasian, as they are often discovered as far east as Japan. There aren’t any fewer than 27 acknowledged subspecies in six teams.

The publish The Garrulous Jay first appeared on 10,000 Birds.

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