Jays are incredible birds. Members of the crow family, they have beautiful pink plumage, a crest, striking blue and black wings, a bright flash of white rump and are intelligent problem solvers.

Here’s one of the first successful photographs I took of one, and a blog about my childhood nature notebooks:

Jay - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

You may have wondered why they are so difficult to see. They are exceptionally wary, being constantly on the lookout, and quick to fly into cover. The answer is simple: they’ve evolved to be like that by unnatural selection. Unnatural? Yes; their behaviour is a result of human persecution. Only the freakishly wary, paranoid, jumpy and hyper-vigilant Jays have survived to have offspring. We have made them wilder than wild.

You may think that’s all in the past. It isn’t. Jays are still routinely shot, their eggs and nests destroyed, and they are trapped in cages and killed. Here’s a typical entry from The Stalking Directory – the home of UK deer stalking, as they describe themselves:

“I’ve had a home made (Single Catch) Larsen Trap working for around a month now on one of my permissions. It took a good few days starting from scratch with no call bird but once I had the first one to act as a call bird things went well. It caught around 20 birds over the next couple of weeks but one day my call bird started sneezing a little and the next day it was dead. Fortunately I was thinking of moving the trap to the woodlands anyhow as I had knocked a big hole in the magpie population where it was located to the extent that the landowner said that she thought that the songbirds were starting to make more of an appearance again, so job well done.
I moved the trap last week using some cat food and some hens eggs as bait. When checking it the other morning I could see that it had been triggered, but not by a magpie, it contained a Jay! I hadn’t heard much about jays getting caught in a Larsen Trap before and thought no more of it and knocked the bird on the head. However the following day I had another Jay in the trap which was extremely noisy and was driving a few magpies bonkers, so I decided to try a little experiment and put this live jay in the call bird compartment. There was nothing yesterday evening but on checking the trap this morning lo and behold there was another jay caught in the trap.
I don’t know if it is common to catch Jays in a Larsen Trap (3 in 3 days) but for the time being I will continue to try catching them using my Jay call bird.
Has anyone else experienced this situation using a Larsen Trap to catch Jays and (if push comes to shove) is the jay call bird likely to get any magpies interested?”

  • A Larsen trap is a cage with two compartments, one with a live bird as ‘bait’ and one to catch an attracted bird.
  • A ‘permission’ is the permission from the land owner. If you own the land you can kill much of the wildlife on it with impunity and are given a free licence to do it without even having to apply and with minimal conditions which nobody inspects. If you do the exact same things and you’re not the landowner or don’t have their permission then you face a hefty fine or prison sentence.
  • A ‘call bird’ is a trapped bird in a cage used to attract other birds so they can be trapped and killed.

Why kill Jays? “The landowner said that she thought that the songbirds were starting to make more of an appearance again, so job well done.” It appears that one of the reasons you can kill Jays is because they sometimes eat birds’ eggs and chicks. Birds eating their natural seasonal food is seen as a bad thing. Is there any scientific evidence that Magpies or Jays have an impact on the population of other birds other than the ‘anecdata’ of ‘she thought’? No, there’s the opposite. Here’s the RSPB on a major British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) study:

Most British members of the crow family (including magpies) will take eggs and nestlings. This can be upsetting to witness but it is completely natural. However, some people are concerned that there may be a long-term effect on songbird populations.

To find out why songbirds are in trouble, the RSPB has undertaken intensive research on species such as the skylark and song thrush. To discover whether magpies could be to blame for the decline, the RSPB commissioned the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to analyse its 35 years of bird monitoring records.

The study found that songbird numbers were no different in places where there were many magpies from where there are few. It found no evidence that increased numbers of magpies have caused declines in songbirds and confirms that populations of prey species are not determined by the numbers of their predators. Availability of food and suitable nesting sites are probably the main factors limiting songbird populations.

Isn’t it tragic that we have to acknowledge the ‘upset’ and reassure people that it’s ‘completely natural’?

The results are simple to understand: humans kill songbirds by destroying nesting and food sources, we then blame Magpies and Jays, and then persecute and kill them.

RSPB Songbirds

I have never understood the obsession with songbirds. I really dislike the term. It goes back to primitive religious ideas that there is good and evil in the natural world and that species have been created and placed on Earth purely for our benefit. Songbirds are somehow here to sing for us and evil Corvids are harbingers of doom. Many people live with a primitive, ignorant and superstitious culture. Crows eat. Magpies eat. Jays eat. Songbirds eat. What’s the problem?

We need to leave the natural world alone and stop interfering with it. The value judgements used by people are embarrassingly childish. We mistakenly attribute human characteristics to birds, identify some which induce ‘cute’ reactions that would normally be induced in us by human babies as a survival mechanism, and act on these primitive feelings.

It’s quite common to go for walks in the countryside and see cage traps like Larsen traps with caged birds inside. Many people release the birds and destroy the cages. Oddly, that’s the crime. Here’s PC Andy King, not just saying people should leave the trapped birds alone, but repeating the lies about songbird populations. My question is: What about corvid populations?

PC Andy King - Warwickshire Rural Crime Team

I dislike having the police justify cruelty. PC Andy King should stick to saying what’s legal, and not try to justify why it’s done. He’s mouthing landowners’ propaganda, not science. As well as law enforcement and the preservation of order, the history of policing is based in maintaining the class system and the protection of private property. The police are there to protect the people who own things and enable and justify their destruction of our shared wildlife heritage based upon feelings of entitlement. Killing for conservation is clearly contradictory. Here’s my redefinition of conservation from my glossary of environmental euphemisms:

A Gloassary of Enviromental Euphemisms - 1 Conservation

What would you do if you found a Magpie or Jay which had been deliberately trapped to lure other Corvids to their deaths?

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