As a Christmas present to myself, and to the birds, I decided to buy a new bird feeder. I don’t usually include peanuts on the bill of fare, but this terracotta acorn rather took my fancy. I dangled it from a branch of next door’s cherry tree, filled it up, and sat back to see what happened.
“Well,” I thought to myself. “For once, the little birds will have somewhere to feed that isn’t mobbed by squirrels or bigger birds”.
And to start with, I was right.
But not for long.
I have been visited by Jays before. With the oak trees of Coldfall Wood less than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not surprising that they sometimes pop in. In the fall, Jays eat thousands of acorns and bury what they can’t eat immediately. Many an oak seedling has started its life as a forgotten part of a Jay’s larder. But it has been over a year since I’ve seen a Jay. How did this one work out that there was something of interest? I know of their intelligence, but their food-finding ability is uncanny.
The Jay is one of the shyest of the British crows and is also the most brightly coloured. This has not always been to its advantage: the iridescent blue wing feathers were much coveted by milliners, and were used to make fishing flies. These, coupled with its striking russet-pink body feathers, and the sharp black-and-white markings on the face, combine to make a bird that looks, as W.H. Hudson once wrote, ‘not altogether unworthy of being called the British Bird of Paradise’. Many a novice birdwatcher has mistaken it for something altogether more exotic and rare, such as a Roller.
The bird turned his head from side to side, trying to judge his angle of approach. After all, the feeder was hanging from a flimsy branch, and had no obvious perches.
It was as if I’d imagined my visitor. Surely nothing so bright and daring could have stopped by this ordinary suburban garden? The feeder swung gently from side to side, rocked by the Jay’s volition, until finally it hung still. When I checked it later, it was as if it had been wiped clean. Not a single peanut was left.