A bird that speaks its name

Have you seen jackdaws in the fields recently? Even the floods are not putting them off. Driving along our country lane this week I saw gangs of them. Too small to be crows or rooks, they must be jackdaws.
They flew over in a black crowd, disturbed by my car, as they called their name ‘jack, jack’. When they got closer, I could see their silvery grey necks in their otherwise black plumage. All jackdaws look as if they are wearing a grey scarf except for the young who don’t see the need for it yet.

As I watched, through my car window, a flock flew to an ash tree standing bare and cold against the sky full of rain. There they sat like jagged notes on an uneven manuscript. Black blobs on the tight black budded branch. Their calls made raucous music.

Look out for jackdaws roaming the fields this winter. They will be searching for seeds and insects which are in short supply after the flooding.

I once lived in a very old house with a wide chimney – the jackdaws loved it. Every year they began poking twigs down the chimney as early as February. Nothing would stop them. Even when I lit a fire, and smoke was pouring out of the stack, they kept on going. I could hear their ‘jack’ call echoing down the chimney. And all the while twigs were dropping down.
Eventually, one stick lodged across and further twigs made a platform for a nest. Four or five pale blue eggs must have been laid, because before long I could hear the young in their nest. They were fluttering around and calling for food.

One baby jackdaw must have fluttered around too much and it fell down the chimney and into the grate, bringing with it a mound of soot. No wonder it is sometimes called the chimney sweep bird! This one was lucky as it was a warm June day and so I had not lit a fire.

It was alert and defiant and started looking round for a means of escape. But before it could fly out into the room and make sooty marks everywhere, I was able to rescue it and take it outside. I took a photo of it to remind me of the adventure.

I had to wait to get the film developed and printed (it was that long ago) and it was only when I looked at the photo that I realised the young bird had startling pale blue eyes. They matched the June summer sky exactly.


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