Jays, the Secretive Screechers

I find it ironic that one of our most colourful garden birds has a voice like fingers scraping down a blackboard. Soft-pink tones with azure-blue flashes to the wings, a tell-tale white rump and softly rounded wings in flight, Jays are unmistakable and without question the most colourful of our resident Corvids. The contrast with the harsh screeching alarm call that sounds like murder is being committed unseen deep within the woodland they habitually occupy mark Jays out as an odd mix.

Most of us may not be lucky enough to see them as a regular garden bird but early Autumn offers the best chance of catching sight or sound of one of these most secretive birds. Jays will spend much of their time in Autumn gathering and storing acorns. It has been estimated that an individual Jay may store up to 3000 acorns in a single month!

Jays store acorns by burying them which makes the task of remembering all the individual sites all the more remarkable. This acorn harvest sees them much more visible as they often fly out on occasionally long journeys to individual oak trees or hedgerows and they can appear in unfamiliar urban settings as a result. They do frequently use garden lawns as burial or cache sites for their acorns and can turn up in gardens that they would never visit at other times of the year.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that includes a Jay’s territory they may visit your garden, most visits are early morning and they will take peanuts and scraps. It’s fair to say though that you are much more likely to hear the commotion from an alarm call. My heard to seen ratio is about 80/20, I frequently hear the local Jays chuntering on in nearby woodland and hedges but rarely see them.

I recall attending what must have been a roost in late winter/early spring in woodland many years ago with perhaps a dozen Jays in attendance and the noise produced echoing across a misty woodland valley early in the morning was simply incredible.


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.