Chat­ter­ing of noisy clat­ter­ing

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

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.

Alan Price

●● Jack­daws look­ing for ticks

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