This year I was delighted when a pair of jackdaws decided to take up residence in one of the old nesting holes at the back of our house. These holes, I am told, were originally designed to encourage doves or pigeons very many years ago, but since I’ve lived here they’ve never been occupied.
You can just about make them out in the photo above – there’s actually a row of six holes, each measuring about 8″ x 5″ and going back about 15″ into the old cob wall behind. This pair of jackdaws were so comical to watch with their bright shiny blue eyes and glossy plumage as they bustled around checking out all the holes for suitability to raise their brood. Eventually they settled upon the third from the left (I have no idea why) and started nest-building.
The male clearly had ambitious ideas for their new home and kept returning with twigs and sticks measuring between 12″ and 15″ long. Clearly these were never going to fit into the hole, but he would spend ages wrestling with each one, trying first one angle and then another, even attempting to force them in using brute force whilst the female sat on the roof above scolding him for his incompetence. Eventually as the pile of discarded twigs grew in front of my back door (at first I blamed Daisy for this!), the female took control of operations and their nest was completed. This was in the early spring, and for the last few weeks they have been raising their noisy brood, making increasingly frequent – and frantic – trips backwards and forwards with juicy morsels for the collection of hungry beaks within the nesting hole.
Illustration from Lambert’s Birds of Garden and Woodland
Last week the youngsters fledged and four strong and healthy chicks – I say chicks, but they were nearly as big as their parents – took to the skies, learning to swoop and circle in the warm summer breezes. I consulted my bird book which told me that they would be dependent on their parents for another month whilst learning to fend for themselves. But yesterday – disaster struck. It was a day of strong gusty winds and heavy rain – and the male jackdaw, caught unawares by a particularly strong gust, and perhaps a little off-balance as he was carrying more food for his chicks, was blown into the side of the house. Later I saw his crumpled body in our cellar, his head at an impossible angle, his neck clearly broken. But even worse, by his side remained one of the four chicks plaintively calling to him.
This morning the chick was still by its father’s body, though the mother and three remaining youngsters had been trying to persuade it to return to the sky, so I clambered down the slippery stone stairs down into the cellar and retrieved the body, hoping that once it was gone the chick would return to its family. I didn’t try to catch the youngster itself as I thought that might do more harm than good, and am hoping that I’ve done the right thing and it will survive. I can hear the mother calling it now – so am keeping my fingers crossed!