Saturday, 21 May 2011

Corvus Rules - OK?

Once upon a time, three years ago if I remember rightly, I took pity on an immature jackdaw who seemed to have taken up residence on my bird-table.
I say, 'took pity' but actually I capitulated to a very loud and fairly constant clamouring for food. I guessed he had been abandoned by his parents, or deemed old enough to fend for himself.
Aaaahh - poor little chap!

I say 'him' because, as the mother of sons I found something familiar in the assumption that the matriarch figure was the provider of food and attention. But he could easily have been a girl. It only really matters to another jackdaw.

Every time I went out into the garden he would follow me, shouting loudly, flying back to the bird-table, shrieking if it was empty, flying to me again, blue eyes (that's how I knew he was young) fixed in a steely glare, so that I went into the kitchen for a bit of grated cheese or a few sultanas.
He had me trained within a very few days.

He became a source of entertainment to visitors, with his constant querulous presence, but a source of disruption to conversation. A peaceful evening in the garden was punctuated by his harsh croaking yells, sometimes so loud and so constant that my guests and I would go indoors.

Then he learned to look in through the windows, slithering and flapping on the narrow stone window sills, banging his beak on the (luckily) double-glazed panes.
He worked his way round the ground floor, kitchen, study, sitting-room, looking through the windows with first one eye, then the other. When he saw me he would yell again. And again.

One morning I was sitting up in bed, having a cuppa, when there was a slithering outside and a glaring face at the window. He was able to work his way around the upstairs as well. He knew I was in there somewhere, and so was the constant, but diminishing food supply.

He knew me, and had me trained. He was suspicious of others bearing food, although he would accept it, having first made a visual check that nothing was available from me. He did not shriek at other people, nor follow them round the garden, nor lie in wait for them.

Autumn came, and winter, and I forgot about him, but the following spring he was back, with partner. He taught his partner to use the birdtable, but she (and I say 'she' in a purely speculative way) was never that impressed by me, and certainly didn't want to peer through the windows at me.
However, the new challenge was over roosting sites. It seemed my roost was his roost, and he wanted to move in. So determinedly did he try to move in that I had to keep doors and windows shut, and to hang a bead curtain over the kitchen door for the occasions when opening was necessary.

This year he is back, icy white eyes glaring in a familar way. He is back and so are half a dozen others, so the partnership obviously worked. He knows me still, and has the occasional shriek at me, but is generally busy arguing, bossing, shouting at the rest of the family.
He watches me in the garden, and is familar with the tools I use, not seeing them as a threat. He watches me through the kitchen window, and knows about saucepans and suchlike.
I thought I would photograph him for this blog-post, and have been trying for several days. The minute I raise the camera he yells and dashes off.

Just how clever are these amazing rooks and crows and jackdaws? How can they be so observant of us that they note such a small change in behaviour? A big shiny saucepan, a pair of shears, a spade are safe in a human hand, a small shiny camera is not.
The small shiny camera makes a little chiming sound when it is switched on. Today there's a starling making a perfect imitation of the little chime.

I'm never alone in my garden. There are countless beady eyes and super-sensitive ears trained on me all the time.

(The photograph of the jackdaw in my garden was taken by Pohangina Pete some years ago, so it's probably an ancestor. Pohangina Pete's camera is backed up by rather more patience than mine!)


marigold jam said...

What a fascinating story! Perhaps if you had dressed up so as not to look like a human he wouldn't have become so dependant on you - here in Somerset cranes have been reintroduced and the people who have been caring for them have had to dress up so that the birds don't come to associate food with humans! So maybe it isn't only rooks and jackdaws etc!

Zhoen said...

Pete has a way with birds, no question.

Your bird clearly knows you are his*.

*(Or possibly hers.)

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold Jam: how wonderful that you have cranes in Somerset.
Yes, I assumed that it was too late for imprinting to take place. I think what happened (and is still happening as I write) is more a case of clever opportunism, plus being able to spot the gullible!

Zhoen: I put no limits on what this bird knows - and having spent a bit of time trying to photograph him/her I am more than ever full of admiration for what Pete can do with a bird.

Jane said...

Jackdaws are fascinating - we've named our local troop (nesting on the Victorian house behind ours) The Squadron since we saw them set out in strict formation and attack and harrass a pair of buzzards until they went back over the hill! They regrouped on a tree and sent recce parties out two birds at a time in all directions for the rest of the day - such team work!

pohanginapete said...

A wonderful story, wonderfully told.

I love crows of all kinds and delight in the way they seem so able to live in our worlds while apparently conceding nothing of their crow-ness.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jane: that's a wonderful story of team work. I think it's likely that my troup could be part of the same squadron. Do you have one team member with white feathers on the wing edges?

P.Pete: thank you, and thank you for the photograph. Sometimes I feel that I'm being allowed to live in the crow world! That Daphne du Maurier story is alarming.

M.B. said...

Very clever, beautifully crafted writing. I am glad to have discovered your blog.

Frances said...

I loved this, Relatively Retiring, and I know that the images will give me a quiet chuckle for a long time.

Relatively Retiring said...

M.B: thank you for your kind comment.
Frances: I'm delighted that it creates images for you, and even more delighted that they make you smile!

gz said...

Greetings RR, thankyou for your comment. I have not been to Hay for a while as travel has increased in cost.

leslee said...

Wonderful story! I read this while on vacation and didn't get a chance to comment. Then I saw a large crow yesterday and remembered. Very smart, those crows.

Relatively Retiring said...

GZ: thank you, too.

Leslee: yes, and peering in at the window as I write!