An odd sighting in Central London

Hi all, apologies no media to share, but twice today I've seen a bird I can't place in Central London. I get into Euston Station in the mornings, and work on Russell Square. Walking from the station this morning I saw a quarter of birds fly overhead. I would estimate size to be approximate to a feral pigeon, maybe a tad smaller. They flew with a halting sort of swooping gait. As they flew over they were calling, and it was a rasping screech (best thing way I can describe it) every few seconds. Definitely not 'birdsong'.

Just now going out for lunch i saw one of the same birds in Russell Square. It sat high in a tree, with that same rasping call, and then flew directly overhead. 

The size and shape make me think of either a jay or GS Woodpecker, but the call doesn't match for the latter, and I can't imagine 4 jays coming into central London. I think colour wise it was a mix of black, white and cream, but I can't bee 100% sure. Any ideas?

  • EDIT: while i've only been birdwatching for around 2 years, I can say with relative certainty that it was NOT a magpie, a crow, a rook, a raven, a dove or a pigeon.
  • Hi Some
    Have you tried Googling the calls of Redwings or Fieldfares.

    There's a Fieldfare call in this video around the 3:40 mark https://youtu.be/N4hxUNvzmJU

    My Flickr photos

  • Jay's do often move around in groups at this time of year and Russell Square is only, what, 1.5 km from Regent's Park? Perhaps a local could say how common they are in that area? Another option (perhaps more likely as it's a bird that will readily use urban areas providing there is a scattering or avenue of trees) would be Mistle Thrush which can sound very raspy especially when they are having a confrontation (e.g. 2 pairs contesting a territory or chasing other birds from favoured berry bushes). Also they often look surprisingly big (compared to, say, other thrushes).

    www.xeno-canto.org/417757

  • In reply to Alan.:

    Hi Alan,

    Many thanks for your reply. I have indeed looked at both and the call doesn't quite match. Many thanks for the suggestion!
  • In reply to melodious:

    Hi Melodious. ATM for me the Jay seems the most correct. Mistle Thrush isn't raspy enough
  • It can be very raspy; worth listening to a few recordings on xeno-canto to see if you can find a better match. The flight action you describe seems to fit Mistle Thrush better than Jay (the eye-catching thing about Jays is that their wings are very broad and rounded and their flight is very 'flappy'; they don't look like they are particularly good at it! The size also fits Mistle Thrush better (Jay's are a very similar length to Feral Pigeon but they almost always look bigger because they are bulkier, particularly so in flight because of the broad wings). Also, what did the flock look like? Jays tend to form spaced out lines rather than bunched in groups. One other thing is that Jay's don't tend to sit exposed at the top of trees (they are much more likely to be in amongst the branches) unlike Mistle Thrushes that quite typically perch right at the top of trees.
  • A short video of Jay flying here with some more aerobatic flight towards the end as it 'bounces' over the treeline.

    www.youtube.com/watch
  • Watching this is seems to tally in my head with the flight action I saw. That and the call of the Jay which is definitely similar. Still, I've only seen Jays deep in woodland, feels really weird to see 4 TOGETHER over one of the busiest parts of London
  • Certainly a bit odd but we are getting into the time of year to see groups of Jays chasing each other around as they set up for the breeding season.

    If you see them again look out for the presence or absence of a white underwing; if the birds were Mistle Thrushes it's usually obvious, often eye-catching. Mistle Thrushes also have white corners to the tail, again quite an obvious feature particularly on birds spreading their tails as they come in to land, whereas Jays have a very obvious white rump.

  • Of interest, a photo of a Jay taken in Regents Park on 1st February this year;

    twitter.com/parkbirdslondon