Birds and Their Nests

By Mary Howitt



We have called the Rook and Jackdaw first cousins. They are so, and are greatly attached to each other. There is a difference, however, in their character; the rook is grave and dignified, the jackdaw is active and full of fun. But they are fond of each other's society, and agree to associate for nine months in the year: during the other three they are both occupied with their respective family cares.

Rooks build in trees in the open air, the nests of the young being exposed to all the influences of wind and weather. The jackdaw does not approve of this mode. He likes to live under cover, and, therefore, makes his nest in holes and crannies, amongst rocks, as in our picture; in old and tall buildings, as church towers and steeples, old ruinous castles, or old hollow trees. The traditional structure of the family nest is certainly that of the rook; a strong frame-work of sticks upon which the eggs can be laid, and the clamorous young jackdaws be brought up. This our friend Mr. Weir has shown us plainly. But, after all, it does not appear that the jackdaw, with all his sharpness, has much scientific knowledge, the getting the sticks into the hole being often a very difficult piece of work. Mr. Waterton amused himself by watching the endless labour and pains which the jackdaw takes in trying to do impossibilities. Thinking it absolutely necessary that a framework of sticks should be laid in the hole or cavity as the foundation of the nest, he brings to the opening just such sticks as the rook would use in open spaces, and may be seen trying for a quarter of an hour together to get a stick into a hole, holding it by the middle all the time, so that the ends prop against each side, and make the endeavour impossible. He cannot understand how it is; he knows that sticks ought to go into holes, but here is one that will not; and, tired out at length, and thinking perhaps that it is in the nature of some sticks not to be got into a hole by any means, he drops it down and fetches another, probably to have no better result, and this may happen several times. But jackdaws have perseverance, and so, with trying and trying again, he meets with sticks that are not so self-willed, and that can be put into holes, either by being short enough or held the right way, and so the foundation is laid, and the easier part of the work goes on merrily; for the jackdaw is at no loss for sheets and blankets for his children's bed, though we cannot see them in our picture, the clamorous children lying at the very edge of their bed. But if we could examine it, we should most likely be amused by what we should find. The jackdaw takes for this purpose anything soft that comes readily -- we cannot say to hand -- but to bill. In this respect he resembles the sparrow, and being, like him, fond of human society, gleans up out of his neighbourhood all that he needs for the comfort of his nestlings. Thus we hear of a nest, built in the ruins of Holyrood Chapel, in which, on its being looked into for a piece of lace which was supposed to be there, it was found also to be lined with part of a worsted stocking, a silk handkerchief, a child's cap, a muslin frill, and several other things which the busy jackdaw had picked up in various ways; for it must be borne in mind that he is own cousin to the magpie, whose thievish propensities are well known.

The call of the jackdaw is much quicker and more lively than the rook, somewhat resembling the syllable yak, variously modulated, and repeated somewhat leisurely, but at the same time cheerfully. Its food is similar to that of the rook, and going forth at early dawn it may be seen in pastures or ploughed fields, busily searching for larvae, worms, and insects. They walk gracefully, with none of the solemn gravity either of the rook or raven, and may occasionally be seen running along and sometimes quarrelling amongst themselves.

Like the rook, the jackdaw stows away food in its mouth or throat-bag to feed its young. Its plumage is black, with shining silvery grey behind the head. Occasionally they are found with streaks or patches of white, as are also rooks, but these are mere sports of nature.

Mr. Waterton was of opinion that jackdaws lived in pairs all the year round, as he had seen them sitting in November on the leafless branches of a sycamore, side by side, pruning each other's heads, and apparently full of mutual affection; and as they mostly left the trees in pairs, and so returned, he was inclined to think that it was their custom always to remain paired.

I will now give you his carte de visite from Macgillivray's "British Birds." " He is a remarkably active, pert, and talkative little fellow, ever cheerful, always on the alert, and ready either for business or frolic. If not so respectable as the grave and sagacious raven, he is, at least, the most agreeable of the family, and withal extremely fond of society, for, not content with having a flock of his own folk about him, he often thrusts himself into a gang of rooks, and in winter sometimes takes up his abode entirely with them."

As to thrusting himself into a gang of rooks, I am, however, of opinion that the rooks make him heartily welcome. How do we know what amusement they, with their stolid gravity and solemn dignity, find in him with all his fun and loquacity? That rooks are really fond of the society of jackdaws is proved by an observation of Mr. Mudie. He says that "in the latter part of the season, when the rooks from one of the most extensive rookeries in Britain made daily excursions of about six miles to the warm grounds by the seaside, and in their flight passed over a deep ravine, in the sunny side of which were many jackdaws, he observed that when the cawing of the rooks in their morning flight was heard at the ravine, the jackdaws, who had previously been still and quiet, instantly raised their shriller notes, and flew up to join the rooks, both parties clamouring loudly as if welcoming each other; and that on the return, the daws accompanied the rooks a little past the ravine as if for good fellowship; then both cawed their farewell: the daws returned to their home and the rooks proceeded on their way."

Jackdaws, like rooks, are said to be excellent weather-prophets. If they fly back to their roost in the forenoon, or early in the afternoon, a storm may be expected that evening, or early in the morning.

The anecdotes of tame jackdaws are numerous. The Rev. J. G. Wood speaks of one which had learnt the art of kindling lucifer matches, and thus became a very dangerous inmate, busying himself in this way when the family was in bed, though, fortunately, he seems to have done nothing worse than light the kitchen fire which had been laid ready for kindling overnight. Clever as he was, however, he could not learn to distinguish the proper ignitable end of the match, and so rubbed on till he happened to get it right. He frightened himself terribly at first by the explosion and the sulphur fumes, and burned himself into the bargain. But I do not find that, like the burnt child, he afterwards feared the fire and so discontinued the dangerous trick.

The jackdaw is easily domesticated, and makes himself very happy in captivity, learns to articulate words and sentences, and is most amusing by his mimicry and comic humour.