September 20 2012. Gelderland Province, Holland. Here in Holland, the Jay of my childhood is called the Vlaamse Gaai, or Flemish Jay. I was pleased to learn this slightly different twist on the old and familiar because the bird-naming folks of 19th century England tended to seize and over-simplify the definitive names of many animal and plants. They named Britain’s tiniest bird ‘the Wren’ before anyone could speak up for the Cactus Wren or Carolina Wren, they appropriated the Toad before the Fowler’s Toad showed it’s face and did much the same thing with the Crow, Jay, and Kestrel.
But whatever its name, the Jay (Garrulus glandarius – say that to yourself a few times; it’s rather melifluous) shares all of the flash and dash of the American continent’s Blue Jay, Steller’s Jay and Mexican Jay. They’ll eat anything, including acorns, small animals and anything they can seize from another bird’s nest: eggs or young; and it’s this latter predilection that loses them friends. English gamekeepers made (and perhaps still make) a point of shooting Jays on sight on grounds that they raid the nests and young of their employers’ pheasants. It’s important to keep a pheasant alive you see, so that when it’s fully grown you can go out with friends and shoot it. As a young man I remember being both impressed and appalled when I watched a gamekeeper bring down a high-flying Jay in one smooth, loud and accurately destructive act. Jays in England were both uncommon and understandably skittish.
Today we visited a home in rural Gelderland, it was surrounded by oak trees that were heavy with acorns upon which Jays and Wood Pigeons were happily feasting. The acorns seemed to be swallowed whole, which would be quite an accomplishment, so it was maybe not surprising that a few Magpies chattered with amazement in the background.
The Jay, the definitive, the Flemish Jay is handsomely dressed: it has bold black moustachial stripes, an overall wash of pinkish buff across its back, tail and breast, and its wingtips are black while its primary and greater coverts are a bold and showy slash of Blue Jay-blue. These Jays had no apparent fear of being shot down so I was able to watch and admire them for quite a while, I wish I could have enjoyed them so closely fifty years ago.