Why are the jackdaws chatting?

By Bill Shepard

Friday, February 7, 2014


Why are the jackdaws chatting?

The jackdaw, a common sight in gardens across the Island.

NATURE NOTES We are so fortunate in the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeology Society (IWNHAS) to have such a member as Bill Shepard. Not only does he connect through his family to the maritime history of the Island, we also benefit from his knowledge of the natural history of the Island for nearly a century. This is one of our favourite Bill Shepard articles and next time you watch the jackdaws busily flying about, you will know what they are up to.

BY far the most interesting time to birdwatch is the winter, when are returning visitors return to us.

There are two key locations, the first, including St Helens Mill Pond and the old rail track between St Helens and Bembridge. returning via Embankment Road. Chances of success are enhanced if the tide is low and the tidal harbour exposed.

The second site is the old rail track at Yarmouth, from Thorley bridge to Barnfield Marsh.

It’s easy walking and less than a mile. To accomplish a good total of sightings, it is wise to to be in the company of experienced birdwatchers, such as you would find in the IWNHAS.

Our annual bird report is published with our proceedings, entitled Wight Studies.

A possible third location, where a 50 sightings is probably obtainable, is the old rail-road track from Brading to St Helens.

On a recent visit, we recorded 41 species and that even when several common species were absent.

I find the behaviour of birds most interesting. Standing in the car park on Ryde Esplanade, and looking at the wall into the hovercraft compound, I noticed a party of sanderlings, standing so closely together, they looked like a carpet.

The waves were breaking on the shore and the closest birds to them probably got their feet wet.

As a larger wave approached, the birds turned as one, moved a yard or so up the beach, and the wave just reached the outer birds. As the waves retreated, the birds followed, taking up their original position.

This was no isolated incident. I watched the manoeuvre several times, but a hovercraft was approaching and the birds then moved out of the compound.

Another thing I noticed was that the birds ignored my presence, as long as only my head and shoulders were visible to them.

On a recent visit to the Brading to St Helens rail track, we were looking into the Brading Sewerage Works, usually a good spot for unusual species.

A grey wagtail was riding on the revolving sprinklers. We watched it make several revolutions and as we moved away, it was still enjoying the carousel.

Finally, jackdaws are extremely numerous near to my home in Newport.

They nest in the equally numerous chimneys. Despite the chimney stack having several chimney pots to choose from, only one pair of jackdaws occupy each chimney stack.

It is in the breeding season in the spring there is a strange occurrence. Morning and evening, the jackdaws congregate and then fly around noisily for about five to ten minutes, in the same fashion as domestic pigeons.

I can only think that it is the sitting females, relaxing and having a chat after hours of incubation on their nests.

So thinking of learning about bird watching? Why not come and join us at the IWNHAS?

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