With more than 30 recognized subspecies, the exact color patterns and plumage shades of the Eurasian jay can vary considerably in different geographic ranges. This is one of the most colorful corvids and is instantly recognizable because of its distinct markings even in populations with significantly different colors.
Common Name: Eurasian Jay, Jay, Common Jay, European Jay, Acorn Jay
Scientific Name: Garrulus glandarius
Scientific Family: Corvidae
Appearance and Identification
These jays are distinctive, but because there can be great differences between populations in widespread areas, birders need to be familiar with the key markings to be sure they can identify Eurasian jays properly.
- Bill: relatively short but thick, black, slightly rounded, framed with rictal bristles
- Size: 14 inches long with 21-23-inch wingspan, heavy build, long tail, crown feathers can be raised into a short crest
- Colors: black, white, blue, tan, pink-brown, gray, rust
- Markings: Genders are similar but there is much geographic variation in plumage color and head markings. Typically, the upperparts range from pinkish-brown to darker tan or rust, with the back showing more pronounced gray or gray-brown. The wings are black with a broad white patch and white edging on the primary feathers, and light blue with fine black barring on the upper wings. The underparts are paler, and the throat is white or pale buff bordered with a thick black malar stripe. The rump and undertail coverts are white. The crown and face vary most between populations, and could be brown with black streaking on the crown or white with a solid black crown. The forehead may be pale or dark. The tail is solid black and very gently rounded when spread. The legs and feet are pale, and the eyes have a light iris that ranges from yellow to light blue.
Juveniles are similar to adults but with generally darker plumage and less defined head markings.
Foods, Diet, and Foraging
These songbirds are omnivorous and will sample a wide variety of foods, including nuts, fruit, insects, eggs, bird hatchlings, amphibians, and even small mammals. Because Eurasian jays adapt to whatever foods may be most abundant and easiest to find, their diets vary by season and in different regions where foods are different. While foraging, Eurasian jays glean insects from foliage or scour the ground for nuts, caching them for winter storage. Those hidden nuts help reforest many areas.
Habitat and Migration
These jays prefer thick, deciduous forests, ideally with abundant oak and beech trees for nuts, but they are also found in coniferous or mixed forests as well as parks, gardens, and backyards with plenty of mature trees. They are common year-round from the United Kingdom to the Iberian Peninsula and northwestern Africa throughout Europe including southern Scandinavia and parts of the Middle East, east through Russia and as far as China, Japan, and northern India. Though Eurasian jays may become nomadic in winter to seek out the best food sources, they generally do not migrate significant distances. Mountain populations may retreat to lower elevations in the winter.
These jays are noisy and can make a variety of squawks and screeches. The most common call is a harsh "aaaack-aaaack" made when alarmed, agitated, or in flight, usually with 2-3 repetitions of even length. Some mimic calls, particularly of predators such as hawks and owls, are also part of these jays' repertoire.
These are solitary birds but can be found in pairs during the breeding season and often form small flocks for foraging in the fall and winter. They are shy and will spook easily, but their slow, jerky flight with an undulating path is easy to recognize. They are fairly intelligent, and may even play games or engage in other unique behaviors.
These are monogamous birds believed to mate for life, though Eurasian jays do not often stay together during the winter and will instead renew pair bonds every spring. A mated pair works together to build a cup-shaped nest of twigs lined with moss, grass, feathers, fur, or other soft materials, positioned in a tree 12-20 feet above the ground.
The oval-shaped eggs range from whitish-buff to gray-green and are uniformly speckled. There are 4-7 eggs in a brood, but only one brood is raised by a mated pair each year. The female incubates the eggs for 16-19 days, and the chicks are fed by both parents for an additional 21-23 days after hatching.
Though they can independently feed themselves, young Eurasian jays often stay near their parents for several months, until they are chased away to find their own territory before the next breeding season begins.
Attracting Eurasian Jays
Despite their shy nature, these jays can be regularly attracted to yards and gardens with mature trees, especially oak or beech trees. Providing fruit-bearing shrubs, preserving leaf litter for foraging, and offering peanuts at tray or platform feeders can also tempt Eurasian jays to visit.
Because of their widespread range, overall adaptability, and high, stable population numbers, the Eurasian jay is not considered threatened or endangered. Some local subspecies may be facing greater threats, and efforts to conserve habitat are essential to be sure these birds remain safe.
- Black-Headed Jay (Garrulus lanceolatus)
- Pleske's Ground Jay (Podoces pleskei)