An extract from the FOAF Newsletter, Autumn 2023 (Valerie Whiteman)

Jackdaw (photo David Emsley)

One group of birds, the Corvids, is ever present in Abbey Fields and often gets a very bad press. These birds have done well recently and get blamed for falling small bird numbers, although the evidence suggests that this oversimplifies a complex situation. On Abbey Fields, we see Carrion Crows, usually a small family over Spring and Summer, Rooks from the Rookeries on Castle Farm, and the occasional Raven, which looks like a ‘Crow on steroids’ and is usually solitary – talking to itself as it flies over. We also have Jays in the trees near St Nicholas church, and Magpies, arguably the most beautiful of the Corvids with their iridescent plumage (but also the ones with the worst reputation for damaging the birds we really like). The birds I want to concentrate on, however, are the Jackdaws. They have increased significantly in the time I have been counting birds in Abbey Fields. Government data on bird populations states that Jackdaw populations have increased by 10% between 2015 and 2020, and further BTO data suggests that that increase has continued until this year (BTO Trends explorer, 1994–present).

Jackdaws are smallish, black Corvids with a silvery grey-black head. The adults have bright silver eyes, while juveniles have blue. They are very sociable birds, and can be heard making the “Tchack” noise, particularly on the path going up to Abbey End and by the end of the lake. The collective noun for Jackdaws is “a Clattering”, which sums up their noisy extended family life: they always seem to be shouting noisily at each other. They also breed in the castle, so they are very common in Kenilworth and seem to be colonising gardens more readily now. Jackdaws are historically unafraid of humans and are willing to come for food, as you can see if you drop sandwich crumbs anywhere near them.

I can only report what seems to have happened in Abbey Fields, and there I have seen habitats taken over by Jackdaws, which like to live communally. By the stream, the Stock Doves, which used to nest in the old trees there, were displaced by Jackdaws, as were the Tree Creepers. These species tend to use tree holes, which Jackdaws take over, although I did see a stand-off between a Jackdaw and a Stock Dove for the nest box near the Barn, which the Stock Dove appeared to win.

According to research, the Jackdaws do not principally eat young birds. Almost half of their diet is insect, another quarter vegetable matter and the final quarter animal matter, most of which is Carrion.

It used to be thought that seeing a pair of Jackdaws on your wedding day meant marital bliss, apparently because the birds are monogamous. That’s good for couples getting married at St Nicholas Church!

If the Jackdaws disappeared, I would miss their noisy chatter and seeing them fly in pairs over the lake and strut about the grass. The Abbey Fields is most certainly Jackdaw owned!

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