Jay - the flashiest dresser of the corvid family

28 October 2019 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Birds
Jay - the flashiest dresser of the corvid family
Jay with acorn © Alan Price

The corvid family has a distinctive look. Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks and Ravens are well known for wearing black. They are sleek, sophisticated and occasionally menacing. The Chough breaks from convention by accessorising its black outfit with novelty red legs and a bill to match, but you’d have to travel down to Cornwall to spot this coastal corvid. Closer to home, the Magpie dares to be different by adding a splash of white to its ensemble, while its seemingly-black feathers reveal flashes of iridescent blue and green when they catch the light. But the real ‘black sheep’ of the corvid family is the Jay. Black and white both feature in its plumage but this colourful character has well and truly flaunted the corvid dress code, and in the most rebellious fashion: by wearing pink.    

It may be a muted, buff shade of pink but it’s still a bold choice. The highlights of the Jay’s outfit are the electric blue wing feathers, striped in black, which are one of the most highly-prized treasures the natural world has to offer. Despite being so brightly coloured, the Jay and its flashy feathers are surprisingly elusive. It’s a shy and secretive bird, rarely leaving the cover of the trees in its woodland haunts but more often shattering the peace with a harsh, squawking call. This is your cue to look up for the chance to spot a Jay on the move, darting across a clearing or flying between trees.

Jays are particularly fond of oak woodland, especially in the autumn. Just as Magpies are known for their love of shiny objects, Jays have a real obsession with acorns. As this year’s crop starts to ripen, the Jay population prepares for a busy harvest, ready to spend up to ten hours a day looking for acorns. Some will be eaten straight away but their main focus is collecting and storing a secret food supply to see them through the winter. One Jay can bury an astonishing 5,000 acorns in a single season but will inevitably forget about some of them, making this charismatic corvid one of the most prolific tree-planters in the natural world.

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