A Christmas Crow

Dear Readers, when we say ‘crow’ we usually think of an all-black corvid, such as a jackdaw or a carrion crow. But the family also includes some very brightly coloured birds, including this Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius). Beginning birdwatchers sometimes mistake these birds for rollers, a mostly southern European and African bird. Well, the colours are similar, and I can well imagine the excitement involved.

Photo One by By Adam John Bourke - Adam John Bourke, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31181059

Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) (Photo One)

However, Eurasian jays are quite interesting enough in their own right. Their species name, glandarius, means ‘of acorns’, and this is the bird’s main food during the autumn – it buries thousands during an average year, which helps to spread oak forests as some of the seeds will germinate if the bird doesn’t eat them first. In fact, jays are credited with the creation of the UK’s largest holm oak forest, in the Isle of Wight. A jay has been recorded carrying a single acorn for 20 km, and the birds are thought to have been a major contributor to the spread of oaks northwards after the last Ice Age.  This year has been a bad one for acorns, however, after last year’s extraordinary crop, so the birds are thrown back on their own resources. I have put out some peanuts in the hope of helping them out, though so far squirrels and parakeets have been the main beneficiaries. The bird in the photo, however, was looking most quizzically at the gutters of the houses opposite, probably in the hope of spotting some over-wintering insect.

Garrulus‘, the genus name, means ‘chattering/babbling/noisy’, and all jays are very talkative birds. They will sometimes mimic the calls of other birds, especially birds of prey, and the racket in the cemetery during the autumn is really something to hear. Just to give you the picture, here is a recording of the calls of a jay…

And here is a jay singing, something I’ve never heard. It sounds like a cross between a muppet and a viper, but is presumably sweet music to a lady jay.

Jays breed only once a year, and they form firm partnerships, essential as the fledglings are fed by both parents for up to two months after they leave the nest. One way that this pair-bond is cemented was illustrated by this study, which showed that male jays notice the food preferences of their mates, and will then bring them the food that they most enjoy – the male will feed the female during the courtship period. The more that we find out about these birds, the more I think that we underestimate them. Or maybe we just don’t have the time to notice? I am hoping to spend a bit more time noticing over the next few weeks, while I’m not working or otherwise filled with busyness. I wonder what I’ll see?

Photo and Sound Credits

Photo One By Adam John Bourke – Adam John Bourke, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31181059

Jay calls from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Arkhivov

Jay song from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Maspran&action=edit&redlink=1

5 thoughts on “A Christmas Crow

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    We’re not big fans of Jays, I’m afraid. They used to terrorise the various Tits on our feeder. And I believe they can raid their nests, so we used to scare them away. Wind forward a few months and our current Corvid visitor is a Magpie (or two, which is good – “for joy” 😊). They scoot as soon as I just look out of the kitchen window, but I love their diamond shaped tail feathers as they fly off.


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