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  • Writer's pictureCrone

When is a jay not a jay?

I am familiar, a little familiar, with jays.


The park birds at this point in the year include, as well as jays, crows, pigeons, thrushes, robins, blackbirds, starlings, a couple of occasionally visiting gulls (the flocks of black headed gulls have left), occasional sightings of tits and the high-spying red kites and, less often, buzzards.


You get to know the voices of this bird-life. Even if I can’t tell them all apart. I know the crows and gulls, well, obviously.


The jays, of course, used to visit my garden regularly before the slaughter of the sick lilac (still no evidence of a phoenix-like rise of Lazarus-like recovery). I became familiar with their raucous voices. At first, when they were in negotiation, I thought an actual murder was taking place, but after a while I learned to accept that jays are just very talkative - in fact the first part of their Latin name is 'garrulous'.


So, when I heard them in a wood or indeed in my park, I knew who they were. Very occasionally, I would see them. Not often. Jays seem immensely sensitive to the glance of the human eye and respond by hiding.


The red kites and buzzards have very specific raptor calls that cannot be mistaken for anything else. They don’t often call when they are spiralling over the park. So when I heard a red kite call – and could see no red kite above and could hear that the calling bird was stationary, not circling, I was curious.


I wondered whether the kite was injured or trapped and followed the sound. I tracked it to one of the tall trees by the driveway and looked up. There was a pigeon in the tree. Why was the pigeon so close to a kite? I looked up and saw… not a kite but a jay. Calling, calling, calling, in the voice of a kite.


Now, I know that jays mimic other birds. That wasn’t the oddest thing. The oddest thing was that the jay didn’t seem to care that a group of humans was standing around staring at her. OK, we were at the bottom of a tall tree and she at the top. But my experience of jays is once sighted, soonest departed.


Maybe the jay took on the courage of the kite as well as his call? Not that kites are especially brave, in my experience. What I thought was that the tall tree offered her the chance to see what affect her raptor call was having on her avian neighbours.

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maplekey4
Apr 23, 2022

Our "blue jay" does the same sort of thing apparently. https://birdwatchingbuzz.com/why-do-blue-jays-mimic-hawks/ with various theories on why.


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maplekey4
Apr 23, 2022
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He said there's been some research but he didn't cite his sources, but yes, I liked how many possibilities there are! I will be listening more to the jays here this summer. I've heard weird noises last summer and they may be responsible!

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