The Jay is the East End Gangster of the bird world with his flash clothes and harsh, husky voice. The most glamorous of the crow family, the Jay likes coniferous and deciduous woods, and even town parks with enough mature trees, though oak trees are his favourite. He demands money with menaces, terrorising the local birds by stealing their eggs and chicks.
A little smaller than a Woodpigeon, the Jay has a pinkish fawn body, a rounded head with a pale streaked crest, and a small black jaunty gangster moustache. He has white barred patches and bright electric blue patches on his wings, a long black tail and a white rump. In flight, wings look broad and rounded and the black tail with white rump is distinctive. For something looking so pretty, the call is a harsh, startling screech like a heavy smoker.
Jays eat insects and seeds (acorns being a big favourite), as well as eggs and young chicks, which makes them unpopular with other birds and gamekeepers. They are a nasty piece of work. They will often bury acorns to eat later but, like a knucklehead gangster, they sometimes forget where they have put them and help the distribution of oak trees. They can carry dozens of acorns in their crops. Similar to other crows, Jays intelligent, sly and cunning.
They start nesting in April, building their twig nest in a tree and lining it with finer material. The 5-7 eggs hatch after 16 days and are fed by both mum and dad for 8 weeks. The youngsters can fly after 21 days.
There are 170,000 breeding pairs in Britain. They are mainly sedentary, staying in the same area, but will move if there are shortages of food. The oldest Jay was 17 years old and knew the Kray twins. Their Latin name is ’garrulus glandarius’ where ’garrulus’ means ‘noisy’ and ’glandarius’ means ‘of acorns’, their favoured food.