The Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) is a colourful member of the corvid family of birds. As their common name suggests, they can be found across Europe and Central Asia. However, their range extends as far south as Morocco in North Africa, Jordan in the Middle East, and parts of China. 'Garrulus' is Latin for 'chattering' - the call of Eurasian jays is a screech or mewing sound. In springtime, Eurasian jays gather in groups of up to 30 birds, creating a noisy flock. Compared with their corvid cousins (crows, magpies, etc), Eurasian jays have a relatively small amount of black and white in their plumage - they have a black tail, white rump, and black 'moustache', but their body is a pink-buff colour and they have a stripe of blue on their wings.
Eurasian jays will eat the eggs and chicks of other birds, as well as insects, nuts and fruit, but they mainly eat acorns. Like squirrels, they bury some of the food they find, to save it for later months. They have good memories, so they are able to relocate their caches when they need them, but jays still play an important role in propagating oak trees. One or two of their stashes may be forgotten about, or not needed, so the acorns will grow into oak trees over time. However, a jay may return to a cache to find that an acorn has already germinated and formed a seedling. In that case, the jay will uproot the seedling and detach the acorn from it. It will then replant the seedling so that the oak can continue growing and potentially produce food for future jays.
Eurasian jays build nests in trees. The female lays up to five eggs and incubates them until they hatch after about 18 days. Both parents feed the chicks. The fledglings leave the nest about three weeks after they hatched, and they are fed by their parents until they are about two months old. The oldest Eurasian jay known to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was 17 years old.
There are estimated to be around 30 million Eurasian jays globally, so they have been classed as Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List and their population is stable. Their feathers were sought after for decorating hats and making fishing bait in the early 20th Century. At times they have been persecuted for stealing the eggs of game birds such as pheasants. However, in the 21st Century they are targeted less often. They may even be seen in gardens, perched on bird feeders, supplementing their diets with peanuts or suet balls.
There are four other members of the Garrulus genus. The black-headed jay (Garrulus lanceolatus) is found in an area south of the Himalayas, stretching from Afghanistan to Nepal via Pakistan. The white-faced jay (Garrulus leucotis) is found in Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. These birds have the same plumage as the Eurasian jay, except with a black head and white face respectively, as their names suggest. The plain-crowned jay (Garrulus bispecularis) lacks the dark speckles that the Eurasian jay has on its head. It can be found south of the Himalayas and in China. The Amami jay (Garrulus lidthi) is found only in Japan and its population has decreased in recent years, so it is classed as Vulnerable. Its eggs are eaten by crows and mongooses, and its forest habitat has decreased in size. It is much darker in colour than the Eurasian Jay, with chestnut back and chest, and deep-blue head and tail feathers.
There are numerous other birds with 'jay' in their names, but they are not members of the Garrulus genus. Examples include the Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata) of North America, the Mexican jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi) of Mexico, the Bushy-crested jay (Cyanocorax melanocyaneus) of Central America and the Beautiful jay (Cyanolyca pulchra) of Colombia in South America.