Country diary: jackdaws break the monastic silence | Environment

Jackdaws, with their undertaker-black plumage and beady-eyed stare, are still considered by some, of a superstitious mindset, to be birds of evil omen. So too, perhaps, by the white canons of the Premonstratensian order who occupied this abbey until its dissolution by Henry VIII. The sights and sounds we witnessed here this evening might have seemed to them to signal the onset of the apocalypse.

Roosts of jackdaws suddenly erupted from crowns of trees in the valley of the River Tees, then coalesced into a vast flock of more than 100, circling the abbey in a swirling danse macabre. It’s hard to avoid anthropomorphism when these innately sociable birds take to the air like this, often at the end of blustery winter afternoons. It seems like a collective expression of their sheer enjoyment of flight. Earthbound, we watched as they soared on updraughts and rode turbulence that swirled around the walls of the ruins.

Jackdaws in flight

‘Earthbound, we watched as they soared on updrafts and rode turbulence that swirled around the walls of the ruins.’ Photograph: Phil Gates

The call of a jackdaw is a staccato, metallic “chack”, sharp as a hammer blow on an anvil. The cacophony from so many, falling on to grass still frosted with ice crystals, seemed to chime with our exhilaration at the end of a long walk on a starkly beautiful January day.

As the sun dipped below the western horizon, the riotous display rose higher until, as suddenly as it had all begun, small groups broke away and settled back into trees that were already submerged in shadow. Monastic silence returned.

Jackdaws may have been residents of this abbey since its foundation 800 years ago. Some nest in stone sockets that once supported the chapel roof beams, high on a south-facing wall, sheltered from north-easterly winds. It’s hard to imagine more desirable, secure nest boxes for the untidy heap of sticks that constitutes a jackdaw’s nest, lined with sheep wool plucked from a flock that grazes just a field away.

Jackdaws mate for life. While we watched, a returning female landed beside her nest on the chapel parapet, crouching low, with trembling wings and tail feathers, to elicit a food gift; such behaviour, reinforcing the pair bond, seemed to herald the start of their new breeding season.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: