Young jay begging its parent for food

Photo courtesy of Nature's Home reader Charles Kinsey

It’s always a delight to see a photo of jays because they are usually very shy, especially, it seems, when there’s a camera around!


This photograph was taken earlier in the year by RSPB member Charles Kinsey who says “During my almost daily walks on the Clifton Downs (Bristol) in these last four months of lock-down, I have occasionally seen a jay in the woodland areas. On July 11th, I suddenly encountered a youngster begging for food from its parent. The birds seemed oblivious to my presence and obligingly posed for me.”

As autumn arrives these colourful crows can be easier to see because they’ll be flying back and forth finding and hiding acorns to help see them through the winter. They can carry around nine acorns at a time in their gullet but will usually just move two or three at a time. These are then hidden in the cracks and crevices of trees, but also in leaf litter on the ground. It’s said that a jay can store around 8,000 acorns each year, sometimes as far as 5km from the oak tree they came from. And as many of these buried acorns are not retrieved, they grow: this is how new oak forests begin!

That means jays have played a significant part in shaping our countryside for thousands of years: they’re ‘ecosystem engineers’ for woodland in the same way that beavers are for waterways and wetlands.

Jay with acorn

Robin Carter (rspb-images.com)

As they’ve been part of our countryside for a long time jays have a variety of old, local and alternative names. A few describe their screeching call: devil scritch, scold and the Gaelic ‘schreachag choille’ meaning ‘screamer of the woods’. There’s also ‘oak jackdaw’ which refers to the jay’s penchant for acorns.

The Latin name, Garrulus glandarius, brings together the sound the bird makes and its favourite seasonal food. Garrulus means chattering, babbly, or noisy, and you’ll also find this word in the Latin names for the waxwing, European roller and an Indonesian parrot called the chattering lory. The second part, glandarius, means ‘eating acorns and beech mast’. So this scientific name is a pretty accurate description!

It’s likely that the word ‘jay’ is a way of describing that screech, so the jay, like most of the other UK members of the crow family – chough, crow, jackdaw, raven and rook – says its own name.

The youngster in the photo, of course, is probably saying ‘where’s my lunch?’!

Find out more about jays

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