A jay, photographed yesterday in the reserve by Clive Knight.

Despite the bright flash of turquoise feathers on their wings and their startlingly loud shriek, jays are secretive birds that are usually difficult to see. However, during the autumn they become much more visible as they search for acorns on the ground under the reserve’s oak trees.

A jay will spend up to ten hours a day carrying acorns from distant oak trees and caching them on its home territory; it can carry several in its gullet at once, with another one in its bill. Jays start this behaviour in September and will carry on until all the available acorns have been eaten or hidden. Research has shown that a single jay can store as many as 5,000 acorns in one season, many more than it could possibly eat in one winter

Images by Clive Knight

The acorns are cached in holes in trees or in crevices in the bark, but most are hidden under leaf litter or buried in the ground. The jay seems to remember where it left most of its winter store but, of course, not all the acorns will be found; some stay where they have been buried and germinate there the following spring.

This is such an excellent outcome for the oak trees that it’s difficult not to think of it as part of their survival strategy: their seeds have been carried far enough away for the seedlings not to compete for resources with the parent trees, and then planted in soft and fertile ground. What could be better?

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