Cover photo by Svetlana Medvedeva (@msvetlana012018)
The jay is a medium-sized bird with memorable plumage and a loud, piercing cry. Its Latin name is associated with the words “noisy”, “chatty”. The genus of jays includes eight species and more than forty subspecies, which differ from each other in different types of plumage.
Origin of the species and description
Latin name — Garrulus glandarius was assigned to her in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus. If the first word in the name indicates that the bird is characterized by noisy cries, then the second comes from the Latin glandis, which means acorn and emphasizes its food preferences.
Linnaeus found the similarity of this bird with representatives of the corvidae family, which includes rooks, jackdaws, kuksha, magpies, ravens themselves, in total about 120 species. The ancestors of these birds were found in Europe, their remains date back to the Middle Miocene, where they lived about 17 million years ago.
Fun fact: Blue jay feathers are not as saturated as they seem. This illusion is created by the refraction of light within the structure. It creates a layered overlay that gives such a vibrant hue. If you pull out the feather and look at it from a different angle, then the bright color is lost.
The weight of the birds does not exceed 200 g, but they look more impressive due to the long tail and large head. The length of the feathered, given the tail, can reach 400 mm, but on average & # 8212; 330 mm, with a height of about 150 mm. A strong beak, which is able to crack oak acorns, nuts and other dense seeds, is black. It is relatively small, but strong, its size from the nostrils is on average 33 mm.
Appearance and Features
The most common, European nominate species with nine subspecies. A bird with fluffy plumage, on the head it is light and slightly disheveled. When frightened, the feathers on the back of the head rise. A black stripe resembling a mustache departs from the beak. The body color is gray-red, Siberian jays have a reddish head, while European jays have a lighter head, there are dark feathers on the head that create stripes. Those that are found in the Caucasus and Crimea have a black “hat”.
The neck is lighter than the neck. Coverts of front flight feathers blue with black stripes, flight feathers — black with white markings at the end. The tail feathers are black, the rump and undertail are painted white. Paws are brown.
A group with three North African subspecies: rufous nape, gray plumage, light head and dark cap. Four subspecies from the Middle East, Crimea, Turkey: with evenly colored plumage, black crown and light mask.
In Mongolia and Central Asia there is a saxaul jay, it settles in these bushes and does not really like to fly. It is smaller than a jackdaw, gray in color with a black tail, a black round spot on the throat and a spot going from the eye to the beak.
In the Caspian forests of Iran, a smaller subspecies of the saxaul bird with gray plumage and a dark crown is seen. In the Himalayas – Himalayan, which is also found in Afghanistan and India: a gray back, gray on the abdomen with a reddish tint. The neck is pockmarked with white feathers, the head is black.
The decorated jay lives on the Japanese islands and differs sharply from its relatives in color: the blue neck and head, wings and tail are black and blue with a purple tint, there are white feathers on the neck. The body has a brown-red plumage.
The crested jay is found in Malaysia and Thailand. Her chicks are striped and gradually darken to black, only the collar remains snow-white. Completely original plumage, unusually bright, blue, in a bird from the North American continent. Breast, belly and under the beak — gray-white, the head around the neck is framed by a black rim. The ends of the feathers on the wings and tail are snow-white.
The blue bush specimen lives in Florida. Throat and abdomen — grey, upper back — dark grey, other coloration — dark blue. In America, there is another species that is found in Mexican lands, it bears the name of the black-headed magpie jay for its long tail and crest, like a parrot. The color of such individuals is bright blue, the belly is white, the cheeks and neck are black, the “cap” and crest are of the same color.
There is also a rare Yucatan species. The outlines of the birds are similar to the magpie, but with a shorter tail. The whole bird is black, the wings and tail are bright blue, and the beak is yellow. And another species is similar to a magpie, but already in color: its entire abdomen is white, the rest of the feather is black, above the eye there is a blue eyebrow, there is a small blue stripe on the cheek. Such individuals are called white-bellied.
Where does the jay live?
These passerines are widely distributed throughout Europe, as well as in Morocco and Algeria, the range extends east beyond the Urals and the north of the Middle East, through Azerbaijan and Mongolia to China, Korea and Japan. In Russia, they are found throughout the territory where there are forests, from the European part, to the Far Eastern shores, there are in the Kuriles and Sakhalin, except for the zone of humid subtropics.
In addition to Eurasia, birds are found in North America. They live in forests of all kinds, especially beech and hornbeam, but oak trees are preferred, also found in parks, in large orchards. In the northern regions and in Siberia, they settle in birch groves and coniferous forests. In more southern — inhabit places where there are shrubs. In the mountains they rise up to the pre-alpine zone.
The endemic saxaul jay lives in the Central Asian region and Mongolia. It lives where the shrub that gave it its name grows, since in winter, this species feeds mainly on saxaul seeds. These birds can also be found near housing in rural areas and in summer cottages, the main thing is that there is a forest nearby. They can roam during the cold periods of the year, appearing in more sparse forests and isolated groups of trees.
What does a jay eat?
These are omnivorous birds and their diet depends on the time of year. From living organisms, she preys on various insects, can catch a frog or lizard, eat snails and mollusks. Birds attack small rodents and birds, destroy nests, eating eggs and chicks. If in the warmer season more animal food is found in their stomachs, then in the cold season, it is vegetable food.
The main food of this representative of corvids in the broad-leaved and mixed forests of the Eurasian and North American regions are oak acorns. A correlation has long been noticed between the number of these birds and the yields of acorns, the residence of these birds in the region and the presence of oaks.
Interesting fact: Jays, who store up to five thousand acorns for the winter, hide them in secluded places, spreading them around. By doing this, they contribute to the spread of the plant. Many acorns buried in moss or soil germinate in the spring far from where they were harvested.
These birds are adapted to eating acorns. Their straight beak has very sharp edges, and low, but flexible legs are equipped with sharp and tenacious claws. In the period from autumn to spring, when there is little other food, their stomachs are 70-100% full of acorns. Their diet contains seeds of various plants, including spruce, pine, beech.
Interesting fact: This bird can carry five acorns at once, while one is in its beak, the other in mouth, and three more in the crop.
Feathers, in small quantities, without causing particular harm to the crop, feed on:
They sometimes feast on:
- bird cherry;
Interesting fact: Of the insects that the jay eats in the summer, 61% are pests, only 1.5% — useful, others — indifferent to agricultural crops.
From insect pests, its menu includes:
- golden bronzes;
- May beetles;
- horn beetles;
- gypsy and pine silkworm;
- sawfly larvae;
Feathers, in search of food, visit vineyards and orchards. In autumn, after harvesting, they can be seen in the fields and beds, where they pick up the remaining small vegetables: potatoes, beets, carrots, and grain in the harvested fields.
Features character and lifestyle
These birds are very intelligent, this can be seen in their behavior when they live close to housing. If they are fed, they regularly fly in, announcing their arrival with sharp, loud cries. Waiting on the sidelines until pieces of bread or other food are placed in their usual place.
Interesting fact: A jay in a mirror perceives itself as a reflection, for example, a parrot sees its fellow there.
Some individuals in the population live settled, others migrate to warmer climatic zones, some move to the territory where they live. They travel in groups of different numbers from five to fifty, there are cases when such flocks numbered up to 3 thousand copies. Birds nest in different places, both in the thicket and closer to the glades, they can also settle on a tall hawthorn bush.
Interesting fact: These noisy creatures are well tamed, and their sound repertoire is very diverse, they can imitate different birds and noises. At home, they can be taught to talk.
They can form a flock to fend off birds of prey. Birds go through a molting period in the second half, and chicks at the end of summer. These corvids live for about 7 years.
Interesting fact: Birds can often be seen on anthills, where they not only can eat insects, their acid drives away parasites. It is possible that the stings of these insects soothe itching during feather growth during the molting period.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Birds create pairs, can stray into close groups and flocks. The language of communication through vocalization is a variety of sounds and screams. The danger signals given by jays are also perceived by other species of birds and animals.
Visually, they can read the reaction from the position of the feathers on the head. When alarmed, the bird ruffles the entire back of the head. In crested jays, aggression is characterized by a vertical crest; when agitated, the feathers on the crest take the direction from the back of the head to the beak.
The mating period in the northern regions of the range is once a year, starting from May, in the southern latitudes – twice. Pairs form from the beginning of spring. The male takes care of the female, flies low above the ground, makes various sounds, and she assumes the position of asking for food, the chick, the partner feeds her. At this time, the couple starts building the nest. Usually it is located at a height of four to six meters above the ground, at the junction of a significant branch and the main trunk. It is approximately 19 cm in diameter and 9 cm high.
An interesting fact: It is considered a courtship ritual that birds build several nests at once, but finish only one.
For the outer base, flexible twigs are broken off from living trees, inside everything is covered with small twigs, roots, fastened clay, on top of this a soft dry bedding of moss, lichen, dry grass and leaves is made. The whole process takes a week. If someone found the nest, then the owners leave it. If a clutch is lost, the couple makes a second one.
Jays start laying eggs in Europe and in the southern regions of the Russian Federation in April. There are 2-10 pieces in the nest, but on average 5 bluish or greenish speckled eggs. At this time, the birds are not heard at all, they avoid attracting attention. The female sits on the eggs, after 17 days the chicks are blind and leave the shell without plumage. After five days, their eyes open, feathers begin to grow after a week.
For the first ten days, the female remains on the nest, then the parents take turns feeding them, warming them and guarding them. During the feeding period, parents fly for food for 20 hours a day, during which time they feed the chicks about 40 times. After three weeks, the babies are ready to fly out of the nest. A couple of days before, they climb out of it and move along the branches, but do not travel far.
After they have already begun to fly on their own, they stay within 10-20 meters from the nest. Until winter, juveniles do not move far from their parents and fly in a small flock. With the onset of winter, they become independent. Maturity occurs next year.
Natural enemies of jays
These birds are hunted by larger predators. At night, owls and eagle owls pose a threat. During the day, jays are attacked by large falcons, peregrine falcons, goshawks, crows. Of the mammals, representatives of the mustelid family hunt for them: martens, ferrets, sables, ermines. They eat chicks, eggs, but they can also attack an adult that sits on a nest.
Food competitors for jays are woodpeckers, starlings, hazel grouse, thrushes, crossbills. But noisy birds are quite aggressive towards strangers. They can attack them, scare off competitors like a hawk.
An interesting fact: In the area where thrushes constantly fed, a jay periodically flew in, chasing away black competitors with noise. This continued until the thrushes finally left the area.
Of the mammals, the competitors of these passerine representatives are rodents, they also feed on acorns and plant seeds, and ruin bird pantries. Birds can die from chemicals used on farmland against insect pests. They are purposefully destroyed in orchards and vineyards. Blue-winged creatures do not harm fruit plantations much, but they are caught in snares along with starlings and thrushes.
Population and species status
In Europe, the jay population is 7.5-14.6 million pairs, which equates to 15-29.3 million adults. In this part of the world, 45% of the total is found, therefore, according to a rough estimate, on a global scale, their number is 33-65.1 million mature individuals. In Europe, if trends are followed between 1980 and 2013, there is a moderate increase in the population, a population increase is expected if there are no significant threats. The situation is assessed as stable.
These passerines have a large geographic range and do not approach the threshold of vulnerable. The blue jay population in North America is also stable.
Concern is caused by one of the subspecies of the saxaul jay – the Ili. She is an endemic species. It lives in Kazakhstan, in the southern Balkhash region. It is listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan as a subspecies, isolated, having a narrow range and unstable population. It is found in the Karakum, Kyzylkum, deserts of the Balkhash region. Habitats between the rivers Ili and Karatal, occasionally capture the opposite banks of these rivers. Over the past half century, the area has not changed. Birds live sedentary, without migration.
Podoces panderi ilensis — Ili jay with a Central Asian habitat. These corvids settle in dunes, but not on bare sandy slopes, but in thickets of bushes: saxaul, zhezgun, acacia. Thickened areas are also avoided, nests are built in depressions, between dunes. Their numbers are not exactly known, and the density of settlements is extremely uneven.
Interesting fact: In 1982, on the right bank of the river. Or 15 nesting sites were found on a plot of 15 km2, on another — 30 nests were found in 35 m2. After seven years, birds were rarely seen there, although there were old nests. That is, before the birds were found there. The decrease in numbers is explained by the increase in agricultural land for cultivated plantings.
The low survival rate of chicks of this species also affects the decline in the population: there is less than one chick per pair. In one clutch there are 3-5 eggs. These jays have many enemies: foxes, predators of the weasel family, hedgehogs and snakes, they can easily get to the nest, which is located low above the ground. And there is nowhere to hide from birds of prey in the desert.
To preserve this biotope, it is necessary to leave large areas untouched, which became possible after the creation of the Balkhash Reserve in 2016. It is also necessary to study the reasons for the extremely low reproduction.
The bright and noisy jay is a real decoration of our forests. Cautious, at the same time, curious, she often appears within the city, inhabits forest parks, where she can be found more often. A smart bird raised from a young age can become a talking pet.