01 December 2015

British birds: A jay’s search for food

Though a shy bird by nature, the Eurasian Jay’s colouring is anything but. With a vivid blue patch on its wings, a body of dusky pink, pretty little black-and-white stripes atop its head and what looks remarkably like a black moustache, this bird is chic. No surprise then that ‘jay’ was once used, sneeringly, to describe a flashy dresser.

Like most members of the crow family, the jay (Garrulus glandarius) can be loud and noisy, and an excellent mimic. As well as copying other birds, they’ve been known to imitate the sounds of cats, dogs and even telephones. Some of their actions even mimic squirrels – they bury large quantities of acorns and show incredible skill at remembering where they’ve buried their hordes.

This afternoon I spent the most delightful 10 minutes watching this one particular jay search for food. Most thoroughly, it picked up leaves in its beak, then flung them to one side or the other out of the way. It then turned its head first to one side then the other to see if it had unearthed anything interesting. The bird was so engrossed in what it was doing that it hadn’t noticed me and my camera standing on the path directly in front of it and came walking directly towards me.

And, finally, success! I’m not sure what it found – it looked, perhaps, like some kind of seed – but the triumphant jay gulped it down whole and then looked directly at me with such a smug look on its face, before flying off, no doubt to repeat the same process all over again.

This is why I watch birds!