Communication and Perception
Eurasian jays use a variety of visual displays to communicate. Displays involve changing body positions, raising feathers on certain parts of their bodies, and movements when necessary. Each display can be given in intense versions or simpler versions. For example, a very submissive bird will extend her wings completely during display, while a less submissive bird will only extend them partway. The displays are undoubtedly more colorful to the bird than to a human observer because their feathers reflect UV light, which we cannot see. Displays are accompanied by vocalizations in some cases, like when the bird is expressing friendliness or alarm.
Males and females have different sexual displays, both of which involve spreading their wings, lifting their feathers, and making a call. The female’s sexual display is similar to the submissive display. The submissive display can be used in a variety of settings, from admitting defeat in a fight to reacting to a human owner, if the bird is tame. They use an aggressive posture to threaten enemies. Jerky alarm movements are performed in silence when the bird does not feel too threatened, serious threats are signaled with the same movements accompanied by alarm screeches. Anxiety is expressed by exaggerated bill wiping and anger is expressed by overzealous feeding movements which only involve actual swallowing if the anger is vented on something edible.
Eurasian jays possess a range of jay-specific calls. One of these, the “appeal note,” is used by birds of all ages when they want something. In young birds, the call is directed to the parents as a request for food, but adults have been heard to utter the same notes while foraging on their own, as if talking to themselves. They use alarm calls to signal the presence of predators. The alarm call is a loud screech emitted once or twice. They also vocalize to express anger, playfulness, affection, warnings about predators, and a myriad of other emotions, intentions, or observations.
Eurasian jays are accomplished mimics and will sing songs composed of all sorts of sounds they have heard. They may mimic crying babies, passerine songs, water dropping from a tap, lawn mowers, and even the alarm calls of their predators. Goodwin (1951) supposes they repeat sounds according to the emotional state they experienced when they originally heard the sound. Thus, when threatened or mobbing they copy alarm notes from blackbirds, magpies, and tawny owls, but at more relaxed times may emulate woodpeckers, sparrows, and human whistling. Young birds spend a great deal of time practicing their mimicry until they can perfectly replicate the original sound.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic
Other Communication Modes: mimicry
Perception Channels: ultraviolet
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