Jay

Garrulus glandarius

One of the most handsome of the crow family, or at least the most colourful.

Jay

Family:

Crows

Length:

34cm to 35cm

Wingspan:

52cm to 58cm

Weight:

140g to 190g

What does a Jay look like?

The jay is a medium-sized crow, distinguished from its cousins by its distinct colouring. This consists of pinkish plumage and brilliant blue wing panels. Its striking white rump and vent are delineated by a long black tail, which has white undertail coverts. Their black and white streaked headcrest is raised and lowered according to mood and sits above a white forehead. A broad black moustachioed stripe runs from the edges of its dark bill downward to a thick neck, which has a whitish throat. The jay displays a short, white wing bar on closed wings. Legs are a pale flesh-brown. Sexes are alike. The juvenile is similar to the adult, but its plumage is redder and its crown is less streaked.

Close up of a Eurasian Jay

Close up of a Eurasian Jay

What does a Jay sound like?

Jays are generally quiet around humans, but can be noisy and are usually heard, squawking raucously, before they are seen.

2 Jays Calling

Simon Elliott, XC602414. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/602414.

Did you know?

The jay is one of nature’s most important planters of acorns.

What does a Jay eat?

Jays aren’t fussy eaters, consuming nuts, seeds, invertebrates, small mammals and carrion, but their staple diet in winter consists of acorns. These are picked from the tree, with a good portion buried for later use. A single bird can carry up to 9 acorns in its gullet and can bury 4,00–5,000 during the autumn. They will use their caches to feed on in winter and, having a good memory, are able to locate them even under snow. Jays will also habitually steal eggs from other birds’ nests, and sometimes eat nestlings.

Where can I see Jays?

Jays prefer to inhabitant the shelter of woodlands, rarely moving far from cover. They travel most in autumn when they are searching for acorns. In Britain, they can be seen all year round. The RSPB’s Church Wood in the Chilterns is a good place to see jays.

Eurasian Jay with spread wings

Eurasian Jay with spread wings

Signs and spotting tips

Being shy and wary, jays are most likely seen when flying away from an observer, showing rounded wings and the striking black and white pattern of rump and tail, while emitting a harsh alarm call. Flight is characteristically bouncy. Outside of breeding season jays may form small groups, but the species generally prefer a solitary existence.

How does a Jay breed?

The jay breeds in various types of woodland, both coniferous and deciduous, and in larger wooded parks. Nests are built in a tree or bush, close to the trunk, and are made from a foundation of twigs, lined with roots, grass and hair. The female will lay a clutch of 4-6 eggs. These are incubated for around 17 days. Adults will share responsibilities for raising their offspring, taking turns incubating the eggs and feeding the young. The fledgeling period lasts for 22 days. A pair will raise 1 brood a year.

Juvenile jay

Juvenile Jay

Jay nest with eggs and chicks

Nest of a Jay with chicks and eggs

How long do Jays live for?

Jays have a lifespan of up to 18 years, but on average live for 2 years.

Do Jays migrate?

Jays are generally sedentary but will exhibit irruptive behaviour if the acorn crop fails. In Britain, the bird is mostly resident, but northern populations can sometimes travel south in autumn.

Threats and conservation

The jay’s wary nature seems to have served it well, and in Britain, it has a Green conservations status. In the UK there are 170,000 breeding territories.

Other birds in the Crows family