The Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) is a species of bird occurring over a vast region from Western Europe and north-west Africa to the Indian Subcontinent and further to the eastern seaboard of Asia and down into south-east Asia. Across its vast range, several very distinct racial forms have evolved to look very different from each other, especially when forms at the extremes of its range are compared.
The bird is called jay, without any epithets, by English speakers in Britain and Ireland. It is the original ‘jay’ after which all others are named.
The Eurasian Jay was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th century work Systema Naturae. He recognised its affinity with other corvids, naming it Corvus glandarius.
Eight racial groups (33 subspecies in total) are recognised by Madge & Burn (1994):
the nominate group (nine European races), with a streaked crown.
the cervicalis group (three races in North Africa), with a rufous nape, grey mantle, very pale head sides, and a streaked or black crown.
the atricapillus group (four races in Middle East, Crimea & Turkey), with a uniform mantle & nape, black crown and very pale face.
the race hyrcanus (Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests of Iran), small with black forecrown and broadly-streaked hindcrown.
the brandtii group (four races in Siberia and northern Japan), with a streaked crown, reddish head, dark iris and grey mantle.
the leucotis group (two races in south-east Asia), with no white in the wing, a white forecrown, black hindcrown and much white on the sides of the head.
the bispecularis group (six races in the Himalayan region), with an unstreaked rufous crown, and no white wing-patch.
the japonicus group (four races in the southern Japanese islands), with a large white wing-patch, blackish face and scaled crown.
A member of the widespread jay group, and about the size of the Jackdaw, it inhabits mixed woodland, particularly with oaks, and is an habitual acorn hoarder. In recent years, the bird has begun to migrate into urban areas, possibly as a result of continued erosion of its woodland habitat.
Its usual call is the alarm call which is a harsh, rasping screech and is used upon sighting various predatory animals, but the Jay is well known for its mimicry, often sounding so like a different species that it is virtually impossible to distinguish its true identity unless the Jay is seen. It will even imitate the sound of the bird it is attacking, such as a Tawny Owl, which it does mercilessly if attacking during the day. However, the Jay is a potential prey item for owls at night and other birds of prey such as Goshawks and Peregrines during the day.
Feeding in both trees and on the ground, it takes a wide range of invertebrates including many pest insects, acorns (oak seeds, which it buries for use during winter), beech mast and other seeds, fruits such as blackberries and rowan berries, young birds and eggs and small rodents.