I’ve Been Photographing Gorgeous Jays In My Garden For The Past Years And I’ve Learned To Tell Them Apart By Their Black And Blue “Barcodes”
Over the past years, I have been photographing jays in the garden. Quite some work, as they are smart members of the crow family, being very much aware of my presence with the camera. This resulted in very fast moves through the garden and no trust in the food that I offered them whatsoever. One click of the shutter and gone. It took me more than a year to get some trust and be able to photograph them in detail.
At some point, I started wondering how many individuals there were during the wintertime. I saw no more than 5 at a time but had a feeling there could be more. During all the photo sessions, I realized that they might be able to be recognized as individuals by their most gorgeous feature, the blue and black “barcode.”
Over the past years, I have been photographing jays in my garden
I realized that they might be able to be recognized as individuals by their most gorgeous feature, the blue and black “barcode”
As a child, I was already fascinated by jays and was always looking for their blue feathers in the garden, not knowing that I would be looking at those exact same feathers again 25 years later. When photographing every single jay, it became immediately clear that all of them had a different code. Some of them are very obvious and easy to recognize. For other individuals, I needed good photos that I could later check on the computer and compare.
10 individual jays in 2018 photographer from both left and right side when available
Studying this increased the number of jays in the garden in the winter of 2018-2019 from 5 to 10! 2 of the jays were year-round in the garden and breeding as well. The other 8 migrated here in winter from Scandinavia and left again in spring.
“Barcode” in detail
When comparing the “barcodes,” it was important to always analyze the same side of the jay. Comparing the left with the right would mean counting the same jay twice as they had different patterns on each side.
6 different birds of 2020 and their differences marked
I also wondered if I would be able to recognize an individual over several years
They molt their feathers so the question was, “does the pattern change as well or not?” Too bad that it does, but the one jay living in the garden year-round has some consistencies in the code that she has kept over the years. In combination with being the most relaxed jay of the garden, I am convinced she is still the same bird.
The main jay with new feather each year but consistent pattern
Main garden jay’s left and right side (mirrored) shown together. Nearly the same
In summer, she even showed up with all her young, and again, by photographing the codes, I could count them
5 in total, all with heavy black bars and a light blue eye which gave away the fact that they were young
5 codes of different young birds with clear blue eyes
This winter, I have started counting again, and so far, 7 birds have showed up, including my breeding couple
In the end, it does not really matter which of them you photograph as all of them are just amazingly gorgeous birds
I am very happy I could gain their trust and create a collection of images over the years
Are you ready to start counting yourself?
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