Anybody who has followed this blog for a while will know I like a bird that shows intelligence and personality, and that I also like to champion an underdog. Corvids are a group that sections of our society would like to persecute heavily, so I feel obliged to stick up for them. With that in mind, let’s look at the perky Jackdaw.
With their piercing grey-blue eyes and silver streaked crown, jackdaws have the air of a fading matinee idol. Think George Clooney or Gregory Peck. That eye colour also gives them a look of determination; “steely-eyed”. They can look both playful, and rather fierce.
The extent to which they can communicate, plan and cooperate never fails to amaze me. I was once standing on Oxenholme Railway Station, waiting for a connection to Kendal. A single jackdaw landed around five feet from me, and immediately proceeded to make the most remarkable attention-seeking display. It croaked and cawed, jumped up and down, flapped its wings, all the while keeping one beady eye set on me.
Now, I know birds will sometimes get your attention to get you to look away from something they don’t want you to see. I documented exactly that here in Ringed Plover. So I suddenly had a sense that if this bird wanted me to look to my left, the real action was probably happening to my right. Sure enough, I turned and saw three more only a couple of feet away, collecting the remnants of somebody’s discarded sandwich. They flew off with it, and the first jackdaw quickly joined them for its share of the spoils.
There is little chance that was all coincidental behaviour, which means to some extent the four jackdaws had a plan. It isn’t The Great Escape, but it is coordinated behaviour in which one bird takes the risk in the expectation it will share the reward. But it is behaviour that benefits the group, and therefore something that works for a social species.
It is that social intelligence that we must remember whenever someone utters the word ‘cull’. Few would get behind a cull of intelligent and communal primates such as Chimpanzees, and we should see corvids in this same light.