Eurasian Jay- Mimicry Artist of the Avian world

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Out of two hundred and eighty seven species of Indian hill-birds described by Salim Ali, about two hundred and thirty are found in Kumaon. So while trekking towards musk-breeding centre, as mentioned in the previous post, I was keenly looking forward to spot some new birds, though it was afternoon and the time was not suitable for birding.

Anyway there is always a hope against hopes and luckily we spotted the garrulous Eurasian Jay sitting quietly on a tree, seemingly in no mood to chirp that day, unlike of her usual self; as otherwise the bird is famous for its noisy chattering. Its scientific name is Corvus Glandirus, where Corvus in Latin means garrulous and Glandirus refers to her favorite food – Acorn.

The Eurasian Jay

The Eurasian Jay

Our camera at that time was not the best for shooting birds; still it was good enough to help me identify the Eurasian Jay.

This bird possess a loud raucous voice that it uses effectively during any predatory attack. Her harsh rasping screech alerts other vulnerable birds and animals like squirrels as well. However, that’s not the only weapon in her armor. She is an excellent mimicry artist and she uses it as her best defense. It is difficult even for an experienced birder to identify her with certainty listening to her songs. An experienced birder, a human being, not able to identify her is an overstatement. This bird is adept in fooling other species of her own avian world as well.

In the real bad world, Eurasian Jay is known to exhibit several combative styles in tackling an attacking predator. If a predator is around, but not yet spotted the Jay, she simply flies off her nest and sits quietly in another corner. If she has even slightest of doubt about her abode, her nest being spotted by the predator bird, she simply abandons it forever.

However, if a preying bird spots a Jay in her nest and she has no time to escape. She behaves like a soldier in the battleground. When the enemy bird attacks her, she spreads her wings, and tries to duck the enemy attack by lying as low as possible in the nest. And when a man to man fight and a beak-to-beak battle is inevitable, she announces the start of a battle with a harsh rasping screech that alerts all in the surroundings. She may speak in the predator’s own voice as well, confusing him of another competitor in close vicinity gaining crucial life-saving extra minutes. She may make alarm call of an entirely different animal confusing and even scaring its predator.

Nevertheless, there are times when she is helpless. For example, she is able to confuse a Tawny Owl during the daytime, but in nights, the owl makes no mistake in identifying, attacking and killing the Jay.

Many of us have first-hand experience of a Parakeet mimicking even a human voice with perfection. Eurasian Jay is no less, as can be seen in the below video.

Though I have posted the above video, but birds in captive does not interest me, nor do I promote such behavior. This is just to show its art vis-a-vis a Parakeet. Just like the above video, I have also seen Parakeets tutored by Humans, but I am not sure how much they use their capabilities during a real combat. Eurasian Jay on the other hand is an expert in using this Brahmastra. In the below video a free Jay can be seen imitating a cat; knowing the reputation a cat enjoys in the avian world, it is easy to understand that how effectively this bird is able to warn other birds not to disturb her and let her enjoy her solitude.

Eurasian Jay’s song reflects her mood. She can also be noticed whistling, singing notes that become softer finally producing a subdued warbling voice. In her life-time a Eurasian Jay learn a wide varieties of notes and not all of them are to scare others, scientist believe that she mimics the voices according to the mood in which she might have heard and learnt them.

This medium size colorful passerine bird of the crow family usually keeps to herself or to a small group of like-minded individuals. She is secretive and is wary of being spotted; it flies low between trees and is often heard than seen.

This bird is well-known, well-appreciated as an inexhaustible planter of English Oak. She loves acorn and is a known acorn cacher, something that is well acknowledged in her Latin name as well. This bird devours the green shoots of oak produced by the buried acorns. And so in winters it grasps around three thousand or more acorns and hid them beneath leaf-litter and low-vegetation. The hiding place is usually half a mile of the place where it discovered the acorn; however, sometimes it could be as far as two miles away. The next summer, this bird with an excellent memory, is able to collect and retrieve the germinated acorns and feed itself. It allows the bird to survive in times of scarcity. Almost every year some of these acorns, which are not picked back by the Jay, grow into new pine trees.

She is intelligent enough to pick strong acorn seeds that have high chances of growing; it then bury these seeds at a place where they get ample sunlight, and no competition from other fellow species. Some studies also suggest that hiring a human planter with such excellent gardening acumen will demand a huge budget.

Eurasian Jay is paranoid about cleanliness. She hates parasites living and thriving on her wings. So it is often seen lying over with her wings spread and remaining passive on ant-hills, allowing ants to run over her body. The ants apparently kill the parasites in its feathers with the formic acid. After anting, the bird baths, shakes itself and then clean itself with its beaks.

As part of their growing up ritual, a young Jay starts participating in mating-gatherings from the age of one or two, where they choose their mates. Often the bird-friend forcing them to think in this direction are already paired-bonded mates; their chasing of each other, displaying of wings excites and encourages others to look for their mates. Peer-Pressure exists in Birds as well.

The food plays an important role in forming and maintaining a pair bond. The male Eurasian Jay has to win the heart of her sweetheart by offering her what she likes to eat. A Eurasian Jay is a caching bird and so she would not say No to anything offered to her; but the one that impresses her and finally wins her over is the lover boy who really understands her needs, her desires, what she has eaten last time and what if offered, she might enjoy the most; in nut-shell the chosen-fellow is the one who is ready to tolerate and pamper her tantrums. This shrewdness in the search for a loving and caring partner is a must as the courtship feeding is one of the main source of food for the female Jay during laying, incubation and feeding of their young ones.

Apart from the food courtship, a male Jay tries also to attract its better-half by singing, dancing and displaying its wings. The wings of Eurasian Jay reflects UV rays and the beauty of different shades of violet in its wings are visible only to their mates making them blind in love.

During mating season, male Jay gets transform into territorial-monger. It is not ready to accept any competition in its territory. Even the younglings it might be rearing comfortably few days back, would be chased away during this period. In case there is another macho-Jay in the area who stubbornly refuses to move, fight becomes inevitable. During the showdown and exhibition of power, the two Jay grapple each other with their feet and peck on their opponents with their semi-open beaks to hurt other as much as possible.

Another picture of the Eurasian Jay, on the way to musk-deer breeding center

Like in Human-beings, in Jay-word also,
कोई हसीना पहले कदम बढ़ाती नही
मजबूर दिल से ना हो तो पास आती नही|
So most of the time it is the male Jay who has to win the heart of her sweet-heart. But sometimes opposite happens as well. And she too follow the same ritual of wining the heart by bring food to her macho-boy. If the boy-Jay is also interested in the girl, the couple keep on exchanging the food, passing it back and forth in a typically Luckhnavi andaaj of पहले-आप पहले-आप, till it vanishes in one of the mouths.

Once the lady love is won, rings are exchanged, pledges of long term caring, love and sharing are taken; the pair builds a nest. Female Jay eats the parasites in the nest to clean it up. She lays around three-ten eggs at a time, and incubates alone for sixteen to nineteen days. This is the period, when her judicious selection of her life-partner matters as in this duration she is very dependent on her male partner. Eurasian Jay also feeds on insects during nesting and breeding. She is also known to eat young birds and the eggs, bats and small rodents. Though they do not show cannibalism normally, but they are observed to become aggressive if they are stressed by presence of a predator in their surroundings during nesting and rearing the young ones. During this time in such a stressed situation, they may end-up eating their own young ones as well.

The kids are cared for around seven to eight weeks, but they are chased away after this much of pampering. By this time they are considered fit to face the world and to feed themselves.
This birds lives in a patriarchal society, however dominant female Jay’s are also seen especially with long term partners and the molting ones.

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