Saturday, 24 May 2014

Shy visitors

It is early and the local jackdaws have sneaked into the garden to take beak-fulls from the suet balls that reside in next-door’s bird feeders. This is the only time of the day that I see these playful birds using the garden and the food presented in the hanging feeders. It is a pattern that is repeated in many other urban gardens, the jackdaws seemingly shy in their feeding habits and restricting visits to that quiet time before the town is properly awake. This may change as the season progresses and as the birds respond to the growing demands of their newly hatched chicks. As the demand for food increases, so the jackdaws become increasingly bold, dropping down into narrow urban gardens from the safety of their rooftop kingdoms.

As the semi-colonial nature of their urban nest sites reveals jackdaws are sociable birds. All across this old part of town there are pairs of jackdaws, each occupying its own chimney pot within which a scruffy nest of sticks and other material will have been constructed. The bigger the cavity in which the nest has been placed the more nesting material that will be added. No matter how big the nest, there will be a smaller nest cup, lined with wool or other fine material and it is into this that the clutch of 4-5 eggs is laid. Each egg is pale blue in colour, with darker spots and splodges over the surface.

Jackdaw chicks are particularly unattractive, at least until they are properly feathered. With their bony-faced features and potbellies, they are prehistoric in their appearance and, seemingly, have an appetite to match. The young grow quickly but remain in the nest for about a month, meaning that things can get a little crowded if the nest cavity is a small one.

The jackdaw pair bond is long-lasting one and individuals will remain together even if they have been unsuccessful in their nesting attempts over several years. It has been speculated that the pair bond is essential for a jackdaw because of the amount of effort that has to go into provisioning the brood of chicks with invertebrate food. Regardless of the reason, it is a delight to watch the birds interact with one another.

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