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 Jackdaw - Fact File


Corvus monedula
Widespread throughout most of Britain except north west Scotland, with numbers increased during winter with Continental visitors.
Found in both town and country, and is often seen around churches and old buildings, on which they commonly nest.

Smaller than Crows or Rooks, and with grey nape and pale eye. Loud distintive calls.

33 - 34 cm


Jackdaws and magpies have always fascinated me. They may be rogues, but they are intelligent rogues and I always suffer pangs of conscience during vermin control when they have to be shot.

Until recently their numbers were controlled by the gamekeepers with the result that shooting and keepered estates always had a greater number and variety of other birds on it than countryside allowed to run wild.

The corvines - crows, rooks, jays, magpies and jackdaws - are relentless stealers of other birds' eggs and chicks. During the nesting season they nest in medium-sized colonies of 20 or more birds, using church towers, mills, etc, indeed anywhere there is a cavity for shelter and shade, from where they will sally forth on foraging expeditions.

Often they brave the noise and bustle of our cities, including Inner London, in order to watch and raid the pigeons' nets on such buildings as the British Museum and the National Gallery.

A friend who is one of the pest officers for Norwich city tells me that the jackdaws save them a lot of work when it comes to controlling the ever increasing hordes of London's pigeons, which, incidentally, you are not now allowed to feed (or so a by-law says).

The pale eye of the Jackdaw is distinctive close up:
photo © Gertjan Hooijer

My interest in jackdaws was first stirred when Biddy Booke, the daughter of the village doctor, kept a pet one. It was highly intelligent and like the "Jackdaw of Rheims" had the ability to imitate human speech and was a great thief. When anything bright and shiny went missing, it was usually found in Jack's box.

Since then, I have had several friends who have hand reared jackdaws , and all have found them characters who have not shown the least fear of human beings. And strangely, though free flying, they have never attempted to join the flights of wild jackdaws winging their way home to roost during the late afternoon.

This happens despite the wild birds uttering their loud staccato calls of "jack" or the nasal "kaar" and also occasionally indulging in acrobatic tumbling in the air.

The social unity of a wild jackdaw colony is very strong, as was evidenced several years ago when Mr E Kingdom, the stationmaster of Nelson, Glamorgan, was one evening walking along the line and noticed a very young jackdaw hopping about. He picked it up and immediately the flock of jackdaws flew down from neighbouring trees and attacked him with persistent ferocity, causing him to run for the protection of the station buildings.

Dr Konrad Lorenz also mentions a similar occurrence in his book, King Solomon's Ring.

Percy Trett

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.