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 members of the Corvidae family and is instantly recognizable because of its distinct markings even in populations with significantly different colors. Learning more Eurasian jay facts can help birders better appreciate all that makes this bird unique, as well as feel more comfortable identifying it or be more successful in attracting it.
- Scientific Name: Garrulus glandarius
- Common Name: Eurasian Jay, Jay, Common Jay, European Jay, Acorn Jay, Black-Crowned Jay, Black-Capped Jay, Iranian Jay, Japanese Jay, Brandt's Jay, Himalayan Jay
- Lifespan: 3-5 years
- Size: 14 inches
- Weight: 5.5-5.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 21-23 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
Eurasian Jay 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 all Eurasian jays properly. The overall large songbird size and shape is a good place to start, and note the black bill is relatively short and thick, slightly rounded, and framed with rictal bristles at the base.
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.
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.
With so much variation among Eurasian jays, it can be difficult to note exact regional differences between scattered populations in this bird's large range. For example, both African and Middle Eastern birds have black crowns, but African birds have darker foreheads, while Middle Eastern birds have pale foreheads. European birds, however, have brown and black streaks on the crown rather than a full dark cap. The extent of white on the bird's face can also vary among populations. The easternmost Eurasian jays of Russia, northeastern China, and Hokkaido have a cinnamon-reddish wash on the head and cheeks, and there are other variations in different regions. Birders traveling to specific locations should check local field guides for which Eurasian jay variants they can expect to see.
Eurasian Jay Habitat and Distribution
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 yards 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, particularly when weather patterns are most severe.
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.
Diet and Feeding
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, hiding them for winter storage. Those hidden nuts help reforest many areas.
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.
Eggs and Young
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.
Eurasian Jay Conservation
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. Should this bird species be split into separate species in the future, there may be greater conservation concerns for more limited populations.
Tips for Backyard Birders
Despite their shy nature, these jays are 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.
How to Find This Bird
Eurasian jays can be difficult to find because of their solitary nature, but visiting mature forests with suitable nut-bearing trees can lead to superb sightings. Birders interested in adding this jay to their life list should consider visiting nature preserves and wildlife refuges where feeding stations are available, as Eurasian jays will happily visit feeders for suet and nuts.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Corvidae bird family is a diverse and fascinating one that includes more than 125 species of jays, crows, ravens, treepies, magpies, and nutcrackers. Some of the more popular corvids include:
In addition to your favorite corvids, don't miss our other wild bird profiles to learn fun facts about all your favorite species!