Friday, May 13, 2011

Who's Watching Who?

When I stepped outside the front door yesterday morning a stick whizzed past my ear and clattered at my feet. Then I glanced up and one of these - that must have been perched on the gutter above the front door - flew off. Coincidence? I don't think so. I'm guessing it was startled when I hurried out the door, late for work, and dropped the stick. I hope that's the explanation, anyway.

There's something slightly unnerving about a jackdaw's stare. When you're watching them, there's always the feeling that they are watching you. Maybe it's those piercing pale blue eyes with the dark pupil. 

They're wary birds, hard to get close too when they're adults but easy to tame as nestlings. When I was a kid my cousin's friend had one that used to perch on his shoulder and would steal shiny objects that were laying around.

Jackdaws seem perfectly at home on the edge of towns, lurking round rubbish bins, gathering on patches of mown grass, hopping into the road to pick up morsels in between the passing traffic and - if they can find an unguarded chimney pot - blocking your chimney with a nest. Before we humans constructed buildings for them to nest in they nested on cliffs (I was once told that Dawdon, on the coast near Seaham in Durham and graced with some fine cliffs, was originally Daw's Den although I can't find any evidence that this is true. Plausible, though).

Jackdaws have a liking for nesting in church towers and the Rev. F.O.Morris in his History of British Birds (1891 edn) - always a source of entertaining and sometimes unreliable anecdotes - mentions that the bell tower of the Church of Tanesborough in Armagh once became so crammed with sticks of jackdaw nests that the bell could no longer be rung. He lists other instances of spiral staircases in church towers becoming blocked with mountains of jackdaw nests and also mentions that "the immense mass heaped together in the western towers of York Minster, formed a most unfortunate kind of firewood for the last tremendous conflagration that occurred there" - which I think must have been the 1840 fire in that somewhat flammable cathedral.


  1. It's very noticable how ALL corvids keep their distance from humans. When you read how we've persecuted the poor creatures over the centuries it's no suprise.

  2. A couple of years ago a jackdaw descended our chimney and we had to lift floorboards upstairs to release it. Quite a bird to deal with when trapped - some beak. Before we knew what it was hammering the kitchen ceiling we suspected a mouse with a pick axe. Anyway, the jackdaw flew off safely - and landed on another chimney pot.

  3. Hi John, Too true. I think I'd keep myself to myself if I was a corvid, on the basis of their past experience.

  4. That must have been a real pain, Rob. I can hear their cawing travelling down our chimney when they perch on top ... just hope they stay where they are.

  5. What a beautiful bird. They must be fairly smart. I bought a pair of pants that color a couple hours ago. (I'm sure you think THAT is interesting.)

  6. I love their eyes, are they the only bird in this country to have pale eyes?


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