Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius)

JayIn the month of September jays appear to be everywhere as they leave the security of the big woods and forage for the abundant harvest of nuts, especially acorns, beech mast and hazel nuts, down the hedgerows. Jays are great hoarders, collecting nuts and burying them in the ground to find later during the winter when food is less plentiful. It has been estimated that a single jay could bury up to 3,000 nuts in an autumn and, of course, they will not find all of these again, so they are an important distributor of these shrubs and trees.

The jay, although a secretive and retiring bird by nature, can also be very noisy. In fact, its Latin name of Garrulus glandarius could well be translated as the “noisy acorn eater” and its Gaelic name of schreachag choillie means “screamer of the woods”! I was taught as a boy by the local keepers, that although jays eat eggs and therefore it was important to control their numbers during the breeding season, it was also wise to always leave a pair in each block of woodland, as unlike birds such as the blackbird, jays only screech a warning cry when there really is a predator or human is around. Many a poacher has been caught or a fox shot because of the “screamer of the woods”!

The jay enjoys the pastime of “anting”. The bird will find an ant nest, often the big mound of the wood ant’s nest, where it will spread its wings out and flatten its tail against the nest, allowing the ants to climb all over it. The ants’ defence is to squirt formic acid over the bird, which is also an insecticide, relieving the bird of unwelcome mites. It is also believed to aid preening, leaving the jay’s feathers in good condition.

These same feathers, especially the beautiful bright blue wing feathers, have long been sought after by fishermen to tie salmon and trout flies. There are many well-known flies such as the blue jay, claret and jay, dunkeld, haslam and the chatterer that include these wing feathers, making them some of the more colourful fishing flies.

Peter Thompson

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