JAY DAY is an experiment in shifting the focus of a balcony from a human-centered space to one more inclusive of urban wildlife. It is a prototypical garden that reimagines the balcony as an urban jay habitat to encourage visitors to consider integrating live plants into their bird-feeding regime and focusing the resources they provide on non-typical feeder species. It repositions the potential of a tiny space to interweave utility for humans, birds and insects.
It is meant to inspire anyone to transform their own balcony into a birdy sanctuary, and will be showcased at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show 2022.
If we just take a closer look at our urban dwellings, we can readily find seemingly ‘wild’ species all around us.
Shall we invite them to our balcony?
Our main client is the shy and clever Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius), via a homeowner who wants to share a little bit of their space back to nature. Eurasian jays are gregarious yet rather shy birds, occurring abundantly in urban settings but relatively unseen. They flock in groups and fly from tree to tree, preferring to remain in the upper canopy of tree, as they hop from parks to gardens to, potentially, balconies.
They are also an incredible ecological engineer. They are credited for sowing millions of the seeds that generate English woodlands by caching nuts on the ground and in various crevices and then forgetting to retrieve them. Or perhaps they are also gardening, just like us - who can say!
A single Jay hoard as many as 2,000 acorns during one autumn season.
Around 14% of UK gardens during a typical year record Jays in their garden during June.
However, if the acorn crop fails that year, the number of Jays reported in gardens rises. In 2021 50% more gardens reported Jays in the autumn than usual.
London has historically high Jay numbers, with as many as 30% of gardens reporting Jays during the autumn months. However, this number has fallen in recent years, possibly due to fewer mature oak trees for Jays to feed on.
Balcony is where the interior living environment and the exterior natural environment collide.
Let’s maximize this interplay with layering.
--- Horizontal Layers. ---
Shading structure replicates a woodland canopy, providing shelter for Jay, and flexible scaffolding for hanging various elements.
Grate paving hovers above of the planting to give access to humans while allowing plants access to sunlight and rainfall. Raised area allows for seating.
Edge-to-edge planted floor enables the foundation to host incredible biodiversity in a balcony setting. Raised topography adds soil depth for more substantial planting.
||| Vertical Layers. |||
Window functions to provide the first lookout towards nature, allowing for passive engagement from within.
Accessories, such as bird feeder, snag for nut caching, nesting materials offering, perch..etc. add diverse utilities.
Railing not only serves as bird perch, but also as structure to hold insect hotels, farthest away from human resident.
We strive to test the idea that no space is too small to host an incredibly diverse wildlife.
What would this look in a 10m² balcony?
The design features various DIY elements, offering utility and points of interaction between the various users of the balcony. Pattern design, thematically based on each user, has been utilized for visual interest and to communicate the identities of each of the corresponding users on the balcony.
Consider the size of feeder openings, perches, as well as food items suitable for your target species. Feeders that allow easy cleaning (with vinegar solution) and draining provide for a hygienic feeding environment. Placing the feeder near planting and under cover encourages shy birds to visit.
Consider the size of openings and perch diameters for your target species. Avoid creating perches that incorporate small gaps, where feet might get caught.
Acorn Cache Snag
Incorporating more beautiful decaying matter in our garden spaces is beneficial to wildlife and we believe a sculptural snag does just that even in a balcony setting. Eurasian jay has been found to cache nuts amongst the deep crevices of tree barks. So why not provide them with a pre-drilled hole-y acorn storage cabinet while also adding a touch of whimsical artful element?
Nest Materials Offering
Modelled above in a rough way, the rattan latticework can become holders for various nesting materials to be offered to the featherd visitors. Consider providing the nesting materials preferred by your target species during breeding season. Forage leaves, twigs, mosses, dry grasses, and plant fluff, and provide them in a mesh bag or suet box. Avoid using long hair, as this can get tangled around nestling’s legs, and also pet fur due to the pesticides in common tick and flea treatments.
Bubbling Water/Bird Bath
An often overlooked but critical need for birds is access to water for drinking and bathing. Hygiene is also important here, so a setup that enables frequent cleaning is key to prevent any potential spread of diseases. Consider bubbling or heated water in winter when natural water sources are often frozen solid.
Lighting element can extend the usability of the Balcony space into darker hours, but must be shaded or point down to prevent interference with migrating birds.
A tasteful way to add well-integrated utility in a small balcony space, with which one can hang their laundry or balcony blanket.
Tubes made out of bamboo, wood and other natural materials provide places for solitary bees and other beneficial insects to nest and shelter. Place these in an area protected from the elements and ideally with good exposure to sunlight. Nesting tubes should range in both diameter (8-12mm) and length (± 15cm) to attract a variety of species. To prevent the buildup of parasites, tubes should be replaced annually and tube clusters should be small and scattered.
The planting design explores various ways plants support the urban ecosystem. Typical bird seed plants like Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) were chosen to encourage incorporating whole live plants into the feeding regime rather than just the seeds. Specimen small nut tree of Hazelnut (Corylus avellana 'Zellernus') highlights the symbiotic relationship between jays and nut trees while anchoring the planting with a splash of color. British species such as Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) and Quaking-Grass (Briza media) provide seasonal drama and a wide range of wildlife services. Sheet Moss (Hypnum cupressiforme) creates a lush planted floor and is used by the Eurasian jay to plug acorn cache holes. Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) offers not only a splash of color, but a great food supply for birds relative to its compact size. All plants in the garden were selected to be useful to multiple species, including humans, in order to make the most of this very small space. Consider aspect and microclimate of the balcony when choosing your own plants.
Common Hazelnut (Corylus avellana 'Zellernus')
White Currant (Ribes rubrum 'White Versailles')
Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea 'Fireballs')
White Grape (Vitis vinifera 'America Bianca')
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus 'Moonwalker')
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus 'Prado Red Shades')
Sweetcorn (Zea mays)
Wild Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
Plume Thistle (Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum')
Pincushion Plant (Scabiosa caucasica 'Perfecta alba')
Leopard Plant (Ligularia 'Britt-Marie Crawford')
Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
Greater Masterwort (Astrantia major 'Pink Pride')
Geum (Geum 'Pretticoats Peach')
Sage (Salvia nemorosa 'Crystal Blue')
Burgundy Gooseneck (Lysimachia atropurpurea)
Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
Dog Violet (Viola riviniana)
European Ginger (Asarum europaeum)
Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)
Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)
Scaly Male Fern (Dryopetris affinis)
Lawn Heath Pearlwort (Sagina subulata)
Amethyst Fescue (Festuca amethystina)
Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue')
Moor Grass (Sesleria nitida)
Quaking Grass (Briza media)
Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata)
Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum)
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Hypnum Moss (Hypnum cupressiforme)
Mood Moss (Dicarnum Scoparium)
Tamarisk Moss (Thiudium tamariscinum)
Glittering Wood Moss (Hylocomium splendens)
Here are some downloadable resources for you to try some of the JAY DAY project elements in your own balcony!
DIY Ceramic Bird Feeder Template
We selected the Jay as a charismatic example species to reimagine the incredible biodiversity even the tiniest balcony can host, but this design can be adapted to various other species. When selecting your target species, consider the connection your space has to the larger landscape, and picture your space in the eyes of that bird:
what do I need, who are my predators, and where would I be coming from?
SWAROVSKI OPTIK is a proud sponsor of JAY DAY. It has been a trailblazer in the field of consumer optics. We believe their product range of binoculars and field scopes helps bring nature even closer in view. Check out their social media for birding tips and product guides!
British Trust for Ornithology has served as the scientific advisor for JAY DAY. Since 1995, their Garden BirdWatch citizen science project has gathered data to help us understand the importance of garden habitats for bird populations. Gardens are particularly important as they support breeding populations of many declining bird species.
Garden BirdWatch is open to anyone – you don’t have to be an expert birdwatcher! Simply record the birds (and other wildlife) you can identify in your garden, and submit the records to BTO as often as every week. Consider signing up to contribute to this exciting citizen science and in doing so, discover the secrets of your own garden birds.
WE EXTEND OUR THANKS TO
Paul Hervey-Brookes for their mentorship throughout the design and build process.
Birds Korea for the ecological insight. Consider supporting their conservation projects in Korea.
Last but not least, our heartfelt thanks to the following individuals who made this endeavor possible!
Logan Williams, Alfred Malouf, Kelly and Cyd Malouf, Stefanie Orellana, Kalin Malouf, Jeremy Kaplan, Seungkuk Ahn, Seha Ahn, Mano Ahn, Nan Joo Koh, Byung In Choi, Susie Choi, John Oh, Florian Wilhelm, Bynne Woo, Nathalie Mitchell, Yuqiao Guo, Aimilios Davlantis Lo, Joshua Gordonson, and others.