Monday, 18 June 2012

First view of a Jay's nest

The raucous calls of the jay are a familiar enough sound at this time of the year and the impression locally is that these birds are doing rather well. The pair breeding on the edge of some wet woodland at work has built its nest high on the ivy-covered trunk of a birch. This is a typical place for a nest and most of those that I have found in the past have been in similar positions: in cover, against the trunk and high off the ground. Naturally enough, this makes them inaccessible to the nest recorder seeking to monitor the nest contents for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme (

Fortunately, I had an opportunity the other weekend to take my first view inside a jay’s nest. I was helping to lead a course training new nest recorders on how to find, approach and monitor nests safely. The course was targeted at heathland and scrubby habitat species and was based in the Surrey Hills, a spectacular piece of habitat, especially now that the A3 has been re-routed through a tunnel to leave a vast expanse of grassy heath.

One of the students spotted the nest, which was placed just 18 feet above the ground in a large holly. The bird had come off on our approach and the nature of the holly offered a safe and easy climb to check the contents. From below the nest looked similar to those of many other corvids, with a foundation of sticks, but it was smaller and had a neater appearance. I was quickly up into the shrub and looking in at the nest contents – four pale eggs on a dark nest cup. The literature describes the nest as looking like that of a giant bullfinch, the cup neatly lined with dark rootlets and sitting on a foundation of larger sticks. Having seen many bullfinch nests I had been a little sceptical that the rather flimsy finch nest would be replicated in a more robust bird like a jay, but it was just as described. I was fascinated by the rootlets and by the fact that the birds had selected such delicate looking dark rootlets with which to line the nest.

Jay nest - Mike Toms
I took a quick reference photograph to show those on the ground and then came down. A few notes in the notebook, coupled with a grid reference and details of the four eggs, and we were off, leaving the female to return and to continue her two and a half weeks incubation. A colleague who lived locally would return in a couple of weeks to check on progress, following the nest through until the end, when, with luck, the chicks would fledge.

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