Jay – Garrulus glandarius
The jay is the most colourful of the crow family, being mostly a pinkish brown colour with slightly paler underparts, with black and white flecks on the top of its head, a black moustache and a white throat. It has a white rump, a black tail and bill and pinky-brown legs. Its wings are mostly black with white and blue patches. Jays are about the size of jackdaws and are shy birds and quite difficult to see, but now the leaves are falling it is easier to spot the flash of a white rump as they flit from tree to tree, giving their raucous, screeching alarm call as they fly, alerting you to their presence. As well as this characteristic sound, the jay is well known for its mimicry, often imitating different species and even the sound of a bird it is attacking. However, the jay is a potential prey item for owls at night and other birds of prey during the day.
Jays are found all over the British Isles apart from the far North of Scotland and they particularly like oak trees in autumn when there are plenty of acorns which they collect and stash for retrieving later in the winter. Their diet consists mainly of acorns, nuts, seeds, fruit such as blackberries and rowan berries and insects, but they will also eat nestlings of other birds, and bats and small mammals. They can be seen all year round, but are more obvious at this time of year when they are active in search of the acorns, beech mast and hazelnuts which they bury. They enjoy foraging in the oak tree in our Garden of Remembrance and, as they bury many of the acorns they collect, they are probably largely responsible for the many little oak seedlings which spring up all over the churchyard during the course of the year!
Jays can sometimes be seen indulging in a curious activity known as “anting”. The jay appears to be dust bathing, lying with wings outspread on top of an ant hill. It is thought that this may be a form of natural parasite control, as the enraged ants spray the bird’s feathers with formic acid.
In an interesting snippet of folklore, the jay is said to spend Fridays with the devil, telling tales!
Churchyards are usually areas of ground that have remained uncultivated for many years, and as such they have the potential to be havens for wildlife where plants and animals can thrive among the graves and monuments. Indeed, until the 20th century they were wild, un-mown places, alive with bees and butterflies, occasionally even grazed by sheep! In the 21st century properly and sympathetically managed churchyards can again become places of wild beauty and tranquillity, surrounding us with the comforting reminder of the ongoing life and vitality of God's creation even amidst the sadness we feel at the passing of our loved ones.
The seeds of the Churchyard Conservation Project were sown early in 2013 when, while looking at ways we might try to encourage new people to come along to church, and with the added asset of an enthusiastic zoology graduate embarking on a career in conservation and ecology, we hit upon the idea of organising a bird box building session in the churchyard, which we advertised with posters around the village, and which proved to be a huge success.