Chattering of noisy clattering
THE festive season is a time for getting together with friends and cavorting in a raucous manner... for many of our birds.
One of the noisiest and therefore most noticeable birds in winter is the jackdaw which can be seen – and heard – in flocks of more than a thousand during late autumn and winter.
In fact the jackdaw is such a noisy character that these huge gatherings are collectively known as a clattering.
They are noticeably massing from mid-autumn in villages around Blackburn. In Brinscall the group tends to be 100 to 200-strong flitting between tree-filled avenues and woodland. It is wonderful to watch as these skilled fliers swoop and rise together before landing, in waves, in nearby trees.
However, much larger flocks are seen particularly out towards Preston and the Fylde. There is a clattering of up to 500 in Cuerden Valley Park where the Wildlife Trust is based in Bamber Bridge.
The biggest reported local flock was on a pasture at Eagland Hill, close to Pilling, on the Fylde in December 1993, numbering about 2,500.
Numbers are certainly up with the UK population increasing one-and-a-half times between 1970 and 2010 to half a million pairs.
In Lancashire and North Merseyside the population was recorded in 2011 at 6,000 pairs, with the breeding range increasing by 25 per cent between 2000 and 2011.
Most British birds stay fairly close to home, wintering close to their breeding areas, but sometimes large numbers of migrants from the Scandinavian Peninsula are seen flying south in October each year.
Jackdaws are related to crows, rooks and magpies, and it isn’t surprising to see their relations mixing with them in the middle of the clattering.
These meetings of hundreds of birds are spectacular and a little bit frightening if you don’t know what you are walking into. They greet each other with a ‘chi-akk, chi-akk’ call, which probably helped when they were being named as it almost sounds like ‘jack, jack’.
However that name might derive from the fact that they are a small version of crows, an example would be jack snipe being used as a descriptive title.
The jackdaw has a Latin name Corvus mondela, first part crow, second part derived from moneta, part of the Latin for money. This is believed to be down to Carl Linnaeus, in Sustema Naturae in the 18th century, who noted jackdaws were keen on picking up discarded coins.
Depending on which part of the country you are in, jackdaws are known as caddy, cawdaw, collegebird, ka-wattie and the chimney sweep bird. Jackdaws have been known to breed in chimneys and other holes in buildings, trees, quarries and cliffs.
They are omnivorous, which means they feed on a mix of plants and animals – favouring invertebrates, young birds, eggs and seeds. The fact they do raid pastures for seeds has not made them popular with farmers over the centuries. They have also been seen, cheekily, sitting on the backs of sheep seeking tasty ticks.
At 13in in length the jackdaw is a small crow, with bluey black crown, forehead, wings and tail. Its chest, nape and neck are light or silvery grey. It has black legs and bill and striking blue eyes.
So, as you walk through the region’s woods and forests this winter, listen out at dusk for the gathering of the jackdaws. It is a wonderful sight and sound as these birds mass together for company and warmth on cold nights.
And as you get closer you will realise just why they are called ‘clatterings’.
To become a member of the Wildlife Trust go to www.lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.
●● Jackdaws looking for ticks