Archive for jackdaws

Birds of Play

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on June 23, 2019 by telescoper

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.

The Rooks of Maynooth

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 3, 2018 by telescoper

In a previous post I mentioned the proliferation of crows in Maynooth. It turns out that was a terminological inexactitude, in that the birds in question were actually rooks. It’s true that rooks are part of the crow family (genus Corvus, family Corvidae) which also includes ravens and jackdaws but they do have a distinctive look and character. See the above picture (taken in Maynooth but not by me; picture credit here).

The rooks have been prevalent in Maynooth for centuries. A quick google found this quote from 1802 from the poet W.M.Letts:

The men of Maynooth are like o’ the rooks,
With their solemn black coats an’ their serious looks.

This refers to the young men studying at the Roman Catholic seminary of St Patrick’s College, of whom there were 500 or so in those days. The seminarians are somewhat fewer in number now, but the rooks are still plentiful.

I wouldn’t say that rooks are the most visually attractive birds, and they do have a slightly sinister aspect, but they are very characterful creatures and I find them very amusing to watch. They’re very sociable and tend to go about their business in large groups, especially when scouring pieces of open land for insects and other things to eat. They also seem to tolerate the presence of their cousins the jackdaws (of which there are also quite a few in Maynooth, though not as many as the rooks). Jackdaws are a bit smaller, prettier, and neater in appearance than rooks (which often look very scruffy indeed). I imagine that the jackdaws look down on the rooks rather snootily, as one might one’s less sophisticated relatives. The collective noun for rooks is a `Parliament’, which also suggests that they are not held in very high regard.

Like jackdaws, rooks have two modes of locomotion along the ground: a sort of strutting walk and a two-legged hop, both of which are rather comical. Their walk makes them look like officious constables, whereas the hop is more like a child pretending to be a horse. The rooks are basically scavengers and they have a penchant for systematically emptying litter bins in their quest for scraps of food. At the rear of the apartment block in which I live there is a place for storing rubbish for collection in large dumpsters. Sometimes somebody forgets to close the lid with the inevitable result that a large group of rooks gets inside and strews garbage all over the place. When they’re not patrolling around or rooting through rubbish they tend just to sit there watching the world go by, waiting for another opportunity for mischief.

I’m told that, in the old days, the rooks of Maynooth used to gather at the Old Mill, but since that was demolished to make way for a shopping centre they seem mostly to congregate on the playing fields on or near the Royal Canal. Anyway, I’ve got used to them in the short time I’ve been in Maynooth and I always look out for them when I’m walking around.

What prompted me to write this post is that on my way to the Department yesterday morning I came across a dead rook lying on the path. It looked like it had died only recently, as there was no sign of decay. It was well away from the road, so it seemed unlikely it had been hit by a car. I suppose it just died of natural causes.

Let’s talk about the Black Bird..

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 8, 2013 by telescoper

I’m writing this using my Blackberry as the train I’m on trundles towards London. Since it’s standing room only (as usual on First Great Western) I thought I’d just pass a little time rambling on about birds.

I took this picture the other day. The bird – a jackdaw? – is one of a pair who joined me for lunch but suddenly became camera shy when I got my phone out to take a picture. As you can see, I didn’t get very close.

I don’t know much about birds, but these are regular visitors to my place of work and I find them very amusing company. I love the way they strut about like officious constables when inspecting their surroundings for morsels of food. When in a hurry they bounce along like small boys do when they pretend to ride an imaginary horse. All members of the crow family, including magpies and jays, seem to share this peculiar style of getting about on the ground.

Anyway, whatever this bird was, at least it wasn’t a seagull. They’re rarely amusing, and often downright vicious. And it’s clearly not a falcon either, let alone a Maltese one…