Birds of Play

As if it weren’t enough to have a celebrity cat, Maynooth University now also has a celebrity bird. Or birds. I’m not absolutely sure that it’s the same Jackdaw that is a frequent visitor to offices on the South Campus, as they are so many around, but here are a few pictures taken from Twitter which may or may not be the same critter:

I’ll assume for the purpose of this blog that it is the same bird, but I don’t know whether it’s male or female so I’ll just say call it `it’. As you can see, it is very trusting of humans.

Jackdaws are extremely characterful, intelligent and inquisitive birds. These traits are not unrelated. In fact this is true in general of the family Corvidae which includes the genus Corvus (crows, rooks, ravens, and jackdaws) as well as magpies, jays, nutcrackers and a number of other species: this family has about the same ratio of brain to body weight as the great apes and cetaceans.

One of the characteristics of this family is their propensity to indulge in various forms of play. I imagine most people know that magpies and other Corvidae like to steal and hoard shiny things, but they also engage in even stranger behaviour. I saw some crows sliding down a roof on campus during the winter snows, which is one of their favourite games. They also like to hang upside down from branches, washing lines and telephone wires. Another thing I’ve seen groups of campus jackdaws do is collect sticks and arrange them in patterns on the ground. I’m not at all sure of the rules of the game they were playing, but they seemed to be taking it very seriously, which made it all the funnier to watch.

I’ve heard various reports of what the Jackdaw above gets up to when visiting staff offices. Most of its activities cause considerable chaos. It seems to be fascinated by string, elastic bands and tissue paper which it pulls out of any container that it can and scatters about. It also has a particular interest in pencils, a fascination which may be related to the stick game I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and it delights in pulling them out of containers to play with.

I’m not aware of any jackdaws coming into offices on the North Campus (where my office is situated), which is a shame because they provide a great deal of amusement.I imagine it took quite a long time to build up a sufficient level of trust for this one to feel comfortable indoors because, outside, they seem rather wary of humans.

I can add one personal anecdote though. Some weeks ago I went for a walk along the canal and at one point sat down on a bench on the towpath. I wasn’t there long until a Jackdaw appeared on the ground and began tugging at the shoelaces on my left foot. I assumed it thought they were something edible such as worms or perhaps spaghetti so just watched in amusement as it tugged more and more frantically. It was only then that I realized that there another Jackdaw had appeared to my right hand side on the bench and was busy trying to get into my bag. This was clearly an attempted distraction theft, but I refrained from calling the Gardaí..

P.S. Here’s a hooded crow trying much the same trick.

9 Responses to “Birds of Play”

  1. Unusual behavior for a wild animal.

  2. Wow. That is clever. I had not heard of them working a sophisticated con like that.
    It sounds like the Jackdaws on campus are worthy of being celebrities.

  3. Dark Energy Says:

    Not sure I can tell the difference of jackdaw and crow.
    But in some cultures it is thought that crows are the birds
    with the highest IQ just as the foxes are believed to be the
    smartest in the animal kingdom. It is also thought Crows can
    add and subtract but only up to three which is infinity for them.

  4. Hoodies seem to enjoy teasing cats

    [One of a number of similar videos on line]

    [maybe not nightjars though.]

  5. Dark Energy Says:

    “”How many sticks a black crow must collect
    before it can sleep in the sand
    The answer my friend is blowing in the wind”

    I think we are being bit “racialist” to the crows. I mean
    you would not write such a blog for a Dylan’s “white dove”
    or Ancient Mariner’s Albatross?

  6. I have a nice jackdaw anecdote: I used to work in Amsterdam, and commute in by train. That train came from a route along a canal before it pulled in to Alkmaar, the station where I got on. Because of warm summer weather, the front of the train was covered in flies and mosquitos, that are very abundant at that canal. So I saw a group of jackdaws waiting on the roof of the station, and when the train pulled in, covered in flies/mosquitos, they immediately flew down, perched on the nose of train and pecked up all the layers of insects. When the train guard blew his whistle for departure, they flew up on the roof again and just waited for the next train to arrive. Very intelligent creatures, they worked out a way to fill their bellies with insects without having to put any effort in!

  7. Dave Carter Says:

    Sorry to be a bit of a pedant here, but Nightjars are not corvids, they are in the family Caprimulgidae and the clade Strisores. They are more closely related to swifts and hummingbirds than they are to corvids.

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