Friends volunteer, popular guide and bird expert Trevor Gunton introduces the next in this series of informative articles.

Image by hedera.baltica, CC BY-NC 2.0

Every morning when we draw our curtains, the first bird we normally see is a jackdaw – Britain’s smallest crow and one of our most sociable birds.  

It is mostly dark grey with a lighter grey nape and is about two-thirds the size of a rook or crow.  Its voice is complex, the commonest call being “tchack” or “key-arkk”, given when perched or in flight, with pairs continually giving contact calls in flight and at the nest.

I have strong reasons for being interested in jackdaws.  It is good to be able to write at last about a bird species which is increasing, both locally and nationally (see fact file).  Firstly, there is a thriving colony (is that the right word for breeding jackdaws?) at the residential care home at the back of our gardens.  This group consists of about 30 birds, which nest around the chimneys and roof extensions.  This number has seemingly remained constant, but we have not often seen young birds – do they also nest in trees?  I do not think so in Little Paxton.  They are now regular visitors to garden feeders and will eat just about anything that we put out!  This makes them unpopular with some of our local friends who feed garden birds.

Most villagers will have visiting jackdaws, but may not realise it as many will only call in early to see what food may be on offer!

Historically, the crow family has had a bad press.  Black rooks, crows and ravens were all connected to evil and were destroyed on sight, especially by gamekeepers.  However, the jackdaw seems never to have suffered the same fate.

One interesting fact from Victorian times – at the turn of the century in London, white jackdaws were offered for sale in cage bird markets.  Seemingly they made good and friendly companions and became popular pet birds.  Quite where these birds originated from is unclear, but I assume they were imported from Europe.

With more than 20 regional names, the jackdaw was clearly, and still is, a popular countryside bird of Britain’s farmland and woodland.  It is called “just Jack” in many areas, but the most unusual name is “cathedral parson” in the county of Somerset.  Do we have any local names in Huntingdonshire?

In summary, the jackdaw is, for many, a new entry to the list of garden birds and it has greatly benefited from an increase in our bird-feeding habits.  OK, they gobble up our fat balls but they are, on balance, a welcome addition to the garden bird list.

However, don’t miss out this winter on one of the great sights and sounds of the birdwatching year, as many thousands of crows and jackdaws assemble at the dusk roost on Heronry South and the old Tarmac plant trees next to the Visitor Centre.  These flocks have been estimated at between 2000 and 6000 birds – quite amazing!

Enjoy your winter birdwatching!

Jackdaw Fact File

  • Scientific name: corvus monedula
  • Status: resident, with a small increase in the winter in birds from northern Europe
  • Breeding Season: April to June.  Eggs – 4-5, with one brood per year
  • Lifespan: Typically 5 years, but one bird lived for 17 years, 1 month
  • Behaviour: Jackdaws usually pair for life
  • UK population: Increasing.  1988 – ½ million pairs. 2016 – 1.8 million pairs. 2020 – 1.55 million pairs
  • The jackdaw is the UK’s 17th most numerous species.
  • World distribution: Europe, Asia, north Africa and the Middle East

Leave a Reply