Sunday, 11 November 2012

Jays – The time to see them!

I could probably count the number of times I see a jay in summer on two hands, but for the last few weeks it has been difficult to travel anywhere without encountering one of these colourful crows.

With their brilliant colours concealed by the abundant lush green foliage of high summer and their natural tendency for shyness, you could be forgiven for thinking that jays leave our woodlands during the summer. They are still there of course, their raucous calls coming from deep within the treetops may be the only clue to their presence.

It is a different story now though. The autumn leaf drop means there is no place now for these woodland residents to hide and jays are much more obvious through their transformation into ‘hoarders’ and ‘stashers’ of the treasures of the woodland floor.

Daily plundering sorties see every jay meticulously scouring the ground beneath our magnificent oaks for glistening acorns nestled in the golden-glowing leaf litter. One of the wettest summers on record has produced an acorn bonanza and jays have been quick to take advantage. In spite of the abundant food on offer, jays don’t spend the diminishing daylight hours scoffing their bounty and fattening up in preparation for winter. Jays, like most crows, are very intelligent and play the long game by burying their treasure in a variety of well-spaced underground stashes, providing a source of food on which they can depend when food becomes harder to find in the depths of winter.

Regular flights between foraging grounds and their stores in various woods is what makes jays so much more visible now. This is confirmed on the BTO’s Birdtrack website where the reporting rate for Jay routinely climbs at this time of year. However, during early October this year, the reporting rate rose to record-breaking levels. High-flying birds and large numbers were noted in many unusual locations. In Norfolk, for example, at least 668 passed over Hunstanton on 6 October. Such observations hint that some of the Jays being seen may be of continental origin, though the picture is complicated by native birds dispersing from breeding areas in search of food. I have recently seen two jays move through my garden, which is almost unprecedented. My last record if my old grey matter serves me right was a single flyover around ten years ago!

Thanks to David Lee for his excellent image of a jay.