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European Jay {Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 9, 2015

European Jay

Familiar Wild Birds  {1883} Swaysland
Familiar Wild Birds {1883} Swaysland

American species

In America the species are represented by birds such as Stella's Jay {Above} and the Blue Jay
In America the species are represented by birds such as Stella's Jay {Above} and the Blue Jay | Source


The European jay,Garrulus glandarius belongs to the Passeriformes {perching birds} and placed in the family Corvidae. Garrulus derives from Latin, and indicates chattering, while the species name glandarius indicates producing acorns from Latin glandis meaning an acorn.

Here in the UK this is one species that is doing very well as far as populations numbers are concerned,170,000 territories {summer} is the latest estimate. {BTO} There are no current conservation concerns. The European population is also healthy with the estimated population being from 4.8-10.5 million pairs.

The Gaelic name for the species is Sgreuchag-choille, in Welsh Ysgrech y coed and the Irish Screachog.

in America the Jay is represented by such species as the Blue Jay and Stella's Jay.

This jay is certainly the most exotic member of the sombre coloured crow family in the UK. here we review this shy and elusive species along with its habits, breeding and life style. There will be extracts from ornithologists and naturalists from days gone by. This species inhabits forests and woodland and where there are plenty of trees, Towns and villages and will often visit gardens in the more rural locations.

As always we start with a description of our subject.

Courtesy of StarFire Alternity

Description of Garrulus glandarius

The European Jay has an erectile crest which is white streaked with black. the chin, throat and belly, and a large area surrounding the base of the tail are pure white, this last sharply contrasting with the broad black tail. At the base of the bill is a conspicuous black moustachial streak or patch.

The wings are black ,white and chestnut, with a beautiful electric blue barred feathers on the coverts. These were once largely used for making artificial flies for anglers and frequently adorned the brims of gamekeeper's hats. the whole plumage seems to have a pink tinge.

Both the sexes are alike. Before the autumn moult the general colour through abrasion, is browner and less pink tinged, and the colour of the young is duller. The bill is a dark horn colour, the legs and feet pale brown. The eyes of the young bird is brown , but change to a pale blue when adult. The adult birds are about 15 inches { 42.5cm } long and weigh approximately 170 grams.

In relation to their body size the wings are medium short the tail medium long, the neck short, bill medium/short, and the legs relatively short.

The flight appears laboured and rather undulating. On the ground it hops.

Jay and Magpie

The Magpie and jay are close relatives Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs {1919}- T.A.Coward
The Magpie and jay are close relatives Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs {1919}- T.A.Coward

Jay on autumn oaks

Wild Animals of the World. {1916}
Wild Animals of the World. {1916}

General history

The Jay is more strictly a woodland bird than its close relative the Magpie. {pictured above}, and the vinaceous plumage of the Jay is often less seen. However, in days gone by gamekeepers decorated their gibbets with their mangled corpses, { Gamekeepers hung out their victims such as Jays , Stoats, weasels etc, to show the landowner they were doing their job}. However, even in those times of persecution they failed to diminish its numbers to any significant degree. It is a shy bird by nature always aware of danger, which tended to thwart the gamekeepers efforts. Seebohm stated " there is little doubt that the ill-deeds of this bird is greatly exaggerated."

Its plumage and habits prevent confusion with any other species, whilst its harsh and strident 'Kraak, kraack' is very distinctive and is more often an indicator of the birds presence, than actually seeing the bird itself. The cry often calls the attention to a flash of white as the bird slips into a tree canopy out of sight, which may be all that catches the eye.

When not aware of ones presence it will sit, raising and depressing the black streaked crest, elevate and lower its fan out tail,or swing it from side to side. The bird tends to leap somewhat heavily from branch to branch, constantly turning its head on the look out for danger, or furtively seeking out some unwary victim.

On the ground it hops jauntily, sideways, rather than forwards. On the wing, when alarmed, it flies steadily towards cover. In the open its flight is undulating and gives the impression it is struggling to fly by its bulk, the rounded wings appear short and weak. It is a bird of woods and copses, and is often encountered hunting in Osier beds.

As the birds specific name suggests it is very fond of acorns but also Beech mast and Nuts.Professor Newstead { 1800's }, on examining the stomach contents of birds procured during the winter, found them to be full of shelled acorns, a little oat and wheat, was also evident in some specimens.

It is true that at that time of the year, when the birds are gathering acorns, that they are more likely to be observed, than at any other time.

In spring the bird is a notorious egg thief victimizing small birds, mallards and pheasants. On the other hand this handsome bird also destroys pests. Professor Newstead, counted the fragmentary remains of at least 127 click-beetles {wire worm }, in their larval stage, in the stomach of one bird killed in April, and another contained 120 larvae of the destructive winter moth. The chicks of the Jay require { as do the chicks of many other birds,}, to be fed on insects.

despite its habitual caution the bird will raid gardens, especially when peas or fruits are ripe. One habit of the Jays previously referred to, is the one of gathering acorns. This is always done in excess. There is a specially designed 'pouch' in the Jays mouth that allows it to carry many acorns at a time. Those that are not required for immediate use are often buried for future requirements, by Jays and other animals. However, many of these acorns are overlooked or forgotten about, and s a result, will germinate far from the parent tree hence unwittingly these animals help to distribute the species of oak.

Sharpe in his 'Handbook to the Birds of Great Britain' conveys this tale on the subject. " The name glandularius -the bird of the acorn-,has been amply justified during the past summer {1893}, when we have noticed in many woods in the Midland and eastern counties a considerable number of jays gathered together to find acorns, which have been so unusually abundant"

A Paragraph on the subject Jays in captivity

According to Swaysland " When taken young, the Jay makes a nice pet. Dresser { A History of the Birds of Europe} states that " As a cage bird it is oftem met with about the country villages.Its bright plumage along with its power of mimicry, render it a favourite of cottagers."

Also referring to this Yarrel writes--" That young birds are easily brought up from the nest, soon become very tame, and in confinement appear to prefer meat to any other kind of food. Although the most common notes of the Jay are harsh and grating, the bird in captivity soon becomes an amusing pet, from the facility with which it imitates the sound of the human voice, and indeed almost any other sound that is heard sufficiently often to afford the opportunity of acquiring it"

European Jay

Birds of Europe --Gould. {1837}
Birds of Europe --Gould. {1837}

Illustration Jay

Bonhote --Birds of Britain 1907
Bonhote --Birds of Britain 1907

The nest and eggs of the Jay

Early in the year parties of Jays gather together these are referred to as 'Jay Marriage's' when the birds seek out partners. It is thought that jays probably pair for life so these gatherings are of birds that are just old enough to breed or single birds that have lost their partners. At this time a jumble of crooning notes have been recorded making up a nuptial song. They may well incorporate mimicry of other bird sounds at this time. These parties can also be very raucous and may be heard at quite some distance.

Here in the UK the nest of the Jay is usually constructed in April, and situated in a tall bush or hedge, generally not at a height of more than twenty to thirty feet, from the ground, and often less. They will be patient and wait until the trees are thickly clad with their foliage before operations begin.

It is an open structure formed of sticks and twigs,well lined with small roots, grasses and horsehair. It is neatly made and deeply cup-shaped, and very bulky. The materials tend to graduate from the outside to the interior. Some nests are much more cleverly constructed than others.

The eggs are usually four to five in number.The background colour is generally greenish-grey or even yellowish-white, freckled all over with shades of light brown and often zoned towards the larger end. They may vary occasionally in both size and in the degree of polish, as well as the ground colour.

Both birds share the task of incubating the eggs which may last for a period of 18 days or so. Jays are noisy birds for much of the year but during the incubation period and the raising of their young they are silent or almost so

Jays are very valiant in defense of their nestlings. Mr. Biggs in his book 'Birds of Devon', records that on June17 1857, he found a nest, with nearly full grown young ones, built in the fork of an apple tree, with ivy growing round it, in an orchard in Derriford. The old birds were exceedingly bold, and, when he was up the tree {presumably to pick apples} they appeared half inclined to fly at him. Their agitation and clamour were excessive; they flew round, chattering and menacing him, now cawing like a rook, then mewing like a cat, and in their extreme agitation actually plucking off dead leaves and biting off pieces of dead twigs. he concludes by saying " their solicitude pleased and amused him much"

He also observed that the old birds were feeding the young on the small round galls commonly found on oak leaves.

After the young have fledged {a further 20-23 days} the family parties scour the woods, following one another with noisy screams, which, in reality, are call notes to keep the party together, sound to us as if they are in torture or torment.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, You certainly show your love for birds with your stories. The Raven's must have been some thing to cheer you at that time, and it is remarkable how attached they become, when they feel safe . Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The US jay that you refer is the Steller's Jay. All the corvids are wonderful and so alike. I ave rescued jays from battle(one fell backward in snow and was unable to extricate himself). He was addled for a period and I put him in brush to recover. In an hour he flew off. I had befriended crows and ravens. Ravens have brought m mice, as they worried that I didn't have enough to eat. I called to them, ate lunch with them ione day, to show them that I could 'hunt." Young ravens would patrol the front grounds of my house to protect it while I was gone. Ah, the stories that I could tell. Thanks for the memories...

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello Devika , I am happy to hear that you are having some good weather to enjoy our feathered friends. Thank you,as always for your kind comments Vote up,Interesting, Useful and beautiful. Much appreciated best wishes to you.


      Thank you for your appreciated comments. Jays need wooded areas or a garden with many trees in which they can retreat to. They are typically shy the slightest movement or noise will send them flying for cover. Best wishes to you.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk


      The European Jay is a rare visitor to our garden - in fact I did consider the idea of gathering some acorns to see if I could entice them into the garden.

      I saw a stuffed Jay in Paris recently - held in the mouth of a stuffed fox - needless to say I took a photo of this unusual sight.

      Very informative Hub with some beautiful images - thank you for sharing.


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      European Jay on autumn oaks looks so beautiful. The good weather has brought many birds around out olive trees and even in the evening I still hear them chirping, beautiful birds and most interesting to read about from your educational hubs. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.


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