The collective noun for a group of Jackdaws is a ‘clattering’ – rather apt considering how noisy this bird can be, its distinctive ‘tchaa’ call is familiar to everyone in both urban and rural areas. The Jackdaw is a successful species, with a large and increasing population, aided no doubt by its opportunism and generalist tastes. The Jackdaw is found throughout Britain in all sorts of habitats, though it is mostly associated with the coast and human dwellings where it uses crevices or chimneys as nest sites.
This is Britain’s smallest corvid; perhaps explaining the ‘jack’ part of its name (used in animal names to refer to small size) – although it has also been suggested that it is onomatopoeic from its familiar call. Corvus monedula (meaning ‘money-crow’ from Latin) has not always been known by this name though – it was once confusingly named ‘Chough’ (again, onomatopoeic) but this was switched to that other red-billed one. Other interesting local names for this diminutive crow include cawdaw, caddesse, jacko, sea-crow and chimney-sweep bird.
As crows go, the Jackdaw does stand out from the others in the family in terms of appearance; most distinctive are its pale grey irises matching its pale grey hood. It has also short legs, a short conical bill, a fairly upright posture when walking and in flight it has a compact silhouette with rounded wings and rounded tail. It is just different enough for some authorities to claim the Jackdaw (and its closest relative the Daurian Jackdaw) should be in a separate genus Coloeus. For me it is the way that this bird moves, reacts and behaves that endear it most; it cocks its head and hops or bobs along when on the ground, it fluffs up its grey hood when agitated and is also a very sociable, friendly creature.
Jackdaws do actually mate for life, even when they are moving in large flocks they will stick close to their partner and also feed together and engage in a bit of ‘allopreening’ – when they groom each others feathers. Jackdaws like to nest in colonies, though availability of nest sites often makes these very loose colonies, in rural areas they will nest in any suitable hole, whether in a tree or cliff and in urban areas will utilise (to the annoyance of residents) chimneys or roof spaces. It is interesting to note that, along with the Chough, it nests in cavities; unlike any other British crow species (which all have open nests) – perhaps its small size makes it vulnerable to predation or less able to drive off predators from the nest so nesting in a hole provides security.
As with all crows, the Jackdaw is highly intelligent (compared to other birds), they have been known to mimic the human voice, solve problems (when there is food at the other end), they cache food in multiple locations which they can then remember and they also engage in ‘play’ (debatable) when they tumble and flip through the air in shows of skillful aerobatics together. When it comes to folklore all crows are traditionally ‘bad-omens’ or signs of evil or bringers of bad news all because of their black plumage – the Jackdaw is not an exception. A Jackdaw perched on your house foretells bad fortune, just coming across one of these very common birds was considered bad luck, a fighting pair also predicted coming war and one on the steeple of a cathedral apparently signaled rain. Yet on the flip-side a Jackdaw seen on the way to a wedding was a good omen for the bride (apparently not for the groom though) and the Welsh considered it a holy bird because it nested in church towers.
I rather like Jackdaws; their compact size, chirpy attitude, sociable nature, cheeky opportunism, tameness, intelligence, that delightful sound they make and their attractive outfit all combine to make a bird that is wholly likable. They are not rough and gruff like the larger crows, they are not shy and retiring like Jays, they are not rare and isolated like the Chough – they have almost all the good aspects of crows thrown together. They are also NOT going extinct, which is nice.