March 9th   Leave a comment

Jackdaw – fun-loving, smart and social

Another clever crow is the jackdaw. They are right up there among my favourite birds, I think because of their sheer exuberance and the many signs that they actually have free time and have fun during it. Students of animal behaviour are not supposed to anthropomorphise. Nevertheless, as an appreciator of natural history, and in my free time just as a plain bird watcher, I think imagining that animals are a bit like us can help in understanding why animals are doing things. Jackdaws, for example, spend a lot of time soaring around above Crail in a big group apparently just having fun. And why not? They are clever and they are intensely social, just like us (plus they can fly which must be so much better than being able to dance): a party is really not that unlikely. If you listen to anthropologists talking about human parties, there are always good reasons why people might be there – forming alliances, finding mates, meeting new people etc. – yet whatever the ultimate reason, the motivating reason is because parties are fun. The jackdaws above Crail like to party and do it because it is fun, I am sure.

It’s not just Crail, of course, wherever jackdaws are, they party – most spectacularly on a sea cliff or a Greek mountain monastery, where the updraughts and the backdrop make their aerial acrobatics even more spectacular. And they constantly talk to each other. Their constant chacking echoes around the buildings and cliffs, varying in tone and pitch and intensity in a way that suggests to me that they are saying just a little bit more to each other than “whee – look at me fly”. The pair that warm themselves on top of my Aga chimney, when they are not showing off, also chat constantly away to each other, their contented chacks echoing down into the kitchen below to add a comforting ambience. Talk must be important to jackdaws too.

It can all turn nasty though, and our own experience in this helps me understand what might be happening when I observe one jackdaw being picked on, either being viciously chased by the others or excluded from their tumbling games in the evening. I suspect the victim may have stolen something, or got caught cheating, or just might not be the most popular jackdaw in town that day. Jackdaws are impossible for me to tell apart (and catching them to put colour-rings on is nearly impossible, they are just too smart) but they know each other and have long running associations, alliances and family groups that must turn sour every so often. I think the only reason that it’s meerkats rather than jackdaws that are so popular as super social, smart animals like us is because actually, meerkats are not as smart (or as mobile) as jackdaws, and so can be manipulated into being TV stars. If we could truly get into the middle of jackdaw society and know them as individuals, it would be just as interesting and complex.


Posted March 9, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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