How many oak trees have you planted this year?

I've got some friends who have planted 10,000 between them in the last two months.

Here they are busy in my garden this week, giving me some sensational views through the kitchen window.

The Eurasian Jay - what a bird! It is surely one of our best-looking of our garden visitors, with its salmon-pink plumage, black moustache and tail, and white rump and wing flash. Oh, and how dare I forget that flash of blue bling on its wings?

I also love the fact that they look like they are wearing a monacle.

Jays can be pretty secretive in the British countryside, especially in areaas where they are still persecuted. But in some urban and suburban areas, they can become quite tame. And the time to see them is right now in autumn, when their almost sole goal is to hunt for acorns.

They will take them from our native deciduous trees - the Pedunculate and Sessile Oak trees that grace our landscape. But they will also collect acorns from the non-native and evergreen Holm Oak.

And the aim is not to eat them - or at least not yet. This is all about preparing for the lean season ahead by hiding them.

So, they fly to an oak tree, collect maybe half a dozen or more acorns, swallow them, and then fly to grassy glades where they will regurgitate them one by one and poke them into bits of soft soil. And that's what they have been doing all over my rain-softened lawn.

Look in the photo below at that little flash of chestnut on the wing - what is called the tertial feather. See, they never stop giving visually. (You might also notice how 'weedy' my lawn is, which is exactly how I like it!)

What I love, too, is that after ramming an acorn into the ground, a Jay will then hide it with maybe a bit of mud, some blades of grass, or a leaf or two. After all, there are sneaky squirrels around who would be more than happy to take advantage:

The evidence seems to show that, over the winter, Jays are incredibly good at finding many of the acorns they hid, heading straight to where they buried each one, even if there is a covering of snow.

But given that it is estimated that each bird may hide up to 5,000 acorns in one autumn, and given that they may fly up to 2.5 miles (4 km) from the source oak tree to hide them, all it takes is for a few stashed acorns to be missed for new oak trees to spring up all over the place.

It means that Jays are credited with helping oak woodlands to expand much faster than they would otherwise. Yes, the Jay and the oaks have a genuine symiotic relationship, each helping the other.

And the fact that there were two Jays together in my garden, does that mean anything? For all you hopeless romantics out there (like me!), the fact that they are strictly monogamous and pair for life means that we can be pretty sure that these two are a devoted couple, working alongside each other.

It means I'm very hopeful I'll see then again when they return, maybe at Christmas, to play a festive game of 'Hunt for your Nuts' in my lawn.

Anonymous
  • I read somewhere, it was a book by a reputable nature writer, that Jays return in spring to their acorn stashes, to harvest the cotyledons from the germinating acorns.  They can remove these without disturbing the seedlings and feed them to their chicks.