Wildlife: Harsh cries of jays was often the only contact you ever had

The jay is nature’s own ‘forester’ spreading oak woodland by planting acorns in winter hoards but then not consuming them all.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 6:00 am
Jay taken by Ian Rotherham.

This was how our ancient forested landscapes originally spread throughout the countryside. Then, from the 1700s through to the late 1900s, jays were banished from much of the land – by a combination of ruthless game-keepering and being shot out by local park-keepers. One result was that jays were quite uncommon; the other being that those birds which survived were very shy and nervous around humans – with some justification! With a flash of blue, black, and white, the harsh ‘kaaa’ cries of jays as they flew away was often the only contact you had . Furthermore, jays coming to garden bird-feeders were a rare treat indeed.

However, this situation has changed dramatically and the jay, a very intelligent bird as are all the crow family, has recovered to high levels in suitable habitats pretty much everywhere. Increasingly they will venture into gardens to feast especially on hanging feeders of fat-balls. But also, when you see them around and about, they are much more approachable even to the point of verging on being bold. This particular bird was hanging out around the Rose Garden Café at Graves Park in Sheffield and it seemed totally unfazed by people being so close. It did eventually move off but only to alight again on another hedge and then it dropped into the cover of some dense rhododendron bushes nearby. It was quite late in the afternoon so I guess it might have been going to roost for the night.

Nowadays, any stroll in or near oak woodland or mature oak trees and you will almost certainly hear, if not see, a jay. As they fly off when disturbed, the ‘kaaa, kaaa’ calls and the flash of white on the rump are highly distinctive. It is not unusual to see three or maybe four birds in a place together and squabbling noisily. The jay, one of our most stunning and interesting birds, is often under-appreciated and overlooked.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer & broadcaster on wildlife & environmental issues, is contactable on [email protected] ; follow Ian’s blog (https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/ ) and Twitter @IanThewildside