The Jay is without doubt the most colourful and most spectacular member of the crow family to be found in northern Europe. The bird has a widespread distribution throughout the region, although it is absent from the very north of Scotland and northern Scandinavia.
The chunky build, stout, heavy bill and colourful plumage make this generally shy bird unmistakable. Jays can be seen in gardens on the edges of woodland with some regularity, and they can also be found in local parks and plantations. In exceptional years, Jays from the
Continent flood across the North Sea or English Channel in the autumn en masse into Britain. It is thought that food shortages force the birds to ‘erupt’ in such a spectacular manner.
As Jays are such wary birds, it is not surprising to see them sitting nervously at the edge of woods, awaiting their chance to drop into a garden for food.
The head shows a whitish forehead, speckled with fine black streaks, fading on the top of the crown into a darkish fleshy-pink napeand cheek. A fat black moustache contrasts with the gleaming white throat patch. The mantle and upper half of the closed wing are brownish-pink. The bird’s ‘elbow’ is a beautiful aquamarine, notched subtly with black and white, and this contrasts with the black and white remainder of the wing.
The rump is snowywhite and the longish tail is black. The underparts are a delicate pink, fading to white on the undertail. The eye is orangeybrown, while the stout bill is blackish, with a paler base. The legs and feet are fleshy-pink. The bird at the rear is particularly alert, with crown feathers raised, revealing the black streaking.
As with other members of the ‘Corvid’ group, Jays can make themselves very unpopular with the general public because of their habit of pilfering nests for young or sitting birds. Here the victim is a fairly defenceless Wren, who in this situation really is not going to fare too well.
When seen from underneath, the Jay does not display its spectacular plumage. It flies with a slow, quite deliberate undulating flight action. However, the longer the flight, the more unsteady their course becomes and the more laboured the action appears.
The upperwing of a Jay in flight is a sight to behold! Pinks, black, white and blues present a brilliant picture as they dart away, screeching a loud, harsh ‘kraa’ as a parting shot.
During the autumn, Jays often congregate in small groups in our woodlands to collect and store nuts for the winter. They hop clumsily over the ground in search of acorns, which, when in excess, they bury.