My pet Jackdaw

When I was 10 I acquired a pet Jackdaw.
Well really I suppose it acquired me. I’d been playing on the top of the Prom in Maldon in the early Summertime. The Promenade in our town was once an amazing place. It had a huge lake which you could actually swim in! Of course that’s long since gone, inconceivable isn’t it, children swimming in a huge pool, unsupervised. But then, my generation had such wild, untamed yet still innocent childhoods, and navigated all the serious fun things with no casualties ( cept Tin Tin! ).

Prom lake, Maldon, by Doris Ruffle 1955

Prom lake, Maldon, by Doris Ruffle 1955

I was walking towards the gate near the top pavilion, which is now used as changing rooms for footy, when I became aware of this rather large grey/black bird, making a really odd noise, which sounded like “Jack! Jack!”
To be honest I was probably a bit scared, it was a big beastie, with a large beak and claws, and white eyes.
It seemed to be following me and to want my attention. After a few minutes of trying to figure out what my feathered friend wanted I ran home and told my Pa, and he asked me to show him the bird.
When we got back to the Prom and Alfie saw the bird, he told me it was a Jackdaw. It was very tame and Pa was able to pick it up without any problems. He decided we’d take it home so it wouldn’t be attacked by a cat or some such.
We had a big wooden shed at the bottom of our garden in Fitch’s crescent, Dad said it would roost there, which it did, and we gave it a big bowl of water and a bowl of milk with bread in it. The Jackdaw made its self at home, scoffed some of the bread and milk, and settled for the evening.


I couldn’t believe a wild bird had taken a shine to me! It was my first and only real pet! Well, except the Newts, Frogs, Moths and Elvers which I kept in tanks and cages in the garden. Of course the Newts and Frogs would always escape, ably assisted by Pa I fear. And I’d watch beautiful Moths hatch from their Pupae, and sometimes lay eggs which produced wonderful looking Caterpillars, which I also loved. Sadly the Elvers demised overnight and Pa advised me they could only survive in running water so they were a one off.

The following morning when I opened the shed door the Jackdaw flew out and perched on my shoulder! And then my head!
Fortunately I lived and died in an old US army fatigues hat at the time, a la Sargent Fury, so his claws didn’t scratch my head! It seemed the bird wanted to be with me.
Alfie became convinced the bird was someones pet and thought it was only a matter of time before it was claimed, as it was so tame. But nobody came forward and Jack as I’d named him/her became my constant companion that Summer.

Kids “Guying” with a trolley and a Guy on it!

At that time all us kids had trolleys. They were essentially fruit crates on a T frame, with pram wheels on the front and back, and a rope attached to the front wheels for steering. Like a poor kids Go Kart, except Alfie being Mr Smart, my machine was a clean machine. The box, which you sat on, had a proper hinged lid with foam rubber glued to it for maximum comfort. A lot of kids had them, I suppose before we could afford Bicycles we had trolleys, and then as we got older we got off our trolleys, and onto our Rayleigh Choppers. Ahem.
I decorated my trolley box with cartoon pictures of Spiderman and the Hulk, who I thought were the coolest Marvel characters. I’d cut them out from the comics I bought at the time and glue them on. I had Smash delivered every week ( another great concept in the 1960’s, paper boys who delivered your daily paper and your comics if you were lucky ) but I loved Wham, along with Pow, Fantastic and Terrific. Halcyon days for British comics, with added Marvel loveliness! Smash also featured Grimly Fiendish, a character that inspired the Damned song. And I loved the Swots and the Blots, a more anarchic version of the Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle characters in Whizz for Atoms and How to be Top.
Sadly Pa told Ma that the 4 foot pile of comics I had by the side of my bed was a fire hazard ( bloody Firemen! ) and I came home one day to find my priceless beloved collection gone! Probably to the Rag and Bone man, but that’s another story………..

Plans for a “Go-cart”(trolley)

Everywhere I went on my trusty trolley Jack was with me, usually perched on the back of the box. He didn’t fly a great deal, and was mostly happy perched on me or  the box. I can’t recall or imagine what the other kids thought of him, but I thought it was totally cool, a big wild bird as my friend and pet.
Dad also said that Jackdaws could mimic human speech, so we spoke to him all the time, prompting him with various phrases, alas to no avail.

Then one day, towards the end of the Summer, I opened the shed door as I did every morning and Jack flew away. Without so much as a bye-your-leave!
I was broken hearted, my constant friend for a month, my special pet, had left me……….

Looking back to those days the story seems quite incredible, tho’ there was a time when it was not out of the ordinary to keep Jackdaws as pets, usually in a cage. They have enjoyed notoriety as Witch’s familiars, and the famous Witch Sybil Leek had a pet Jackdaw called Mr Hotfoot Jackson. Amazingly she became friends with Aleister Crowley at the age of  9. She said they often talked about Witchcraft and Magickal words. And as a result of her psychic abilities numbered HG Wells and Lawrence of Arabia amongst her friends. Oddly enough my Father’s brother John was a good friend of Lawrence’s whilst they were in the Army together.

Jackdaws are very clever and are comparable to Primates in intelligence apparently. They store food underground, and Corvids ( the Crow genus ) have contributed to much of the natural forest in the UK.
In myth they herald both good and bad omen. Some say they forsee the future and the approach of death. In Macbeth, the eponymous thane registers the fall of dusk with the words: “Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to th’ rocky wood.”

It was named in Latin by Linnaeus as “the little money bird”, probably after its habit of stealing bright objects such as coins. The smallest of the crows, the jackdaw is bigger than a blackbird but smaller than a carrion crow and is distinguished by a grey nape (the back of its neck).
The ancient Greeks accounted for the crow’s black feathers with a tale of infidelity. Ischys, the son of Elatus and Hippea, had fallen in love with Coronis, who was carrying Apollo’s child. When a passing crow – who was then, like all crows, white-feathered – told Apollo of Coronis’ infidelity, he was so angered that he turned the crow’s feathers black, before killing Ischys. I loved Greek and Norse mythology as a child, I remember a Puffin book about  Greek heroes  was my bedside reading in 1967.

Puffin (384 x 600)

In Norse mythology the god Odin keeps two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who represent Thought and Memory. Odin sends his ravens around the world at daybreak, to bring him news. In Irish and Welsh myth, the Raven plays the role of prophet, and in the shamanistic cultures of the North-west American Indians, the raven helps to create the world.

There’s also other myths surrounding the Jackdaw which relate to me in sadder times. When I was a young lad at school I thought every one was brighter than me, that I was a “Daw”, the old English word for simpleton. Of course now we know the Jackdaw is one of the most intelligent birds on the planet…….!
And then just like now I talked too much, my teachers writing on my reports that I was far too talkative, my head bursting with thoughts and ideas. Another ancient Greek and Roman adage runs, “The swans will sing when the jackdaws are silent,” meaning that educated or wise people will speak after the foolish become quiet.
And for all the women that have told me how vain I am, ancient Greek authors tell how a jackdaw, being a social creature, “may be caught with a dish of oil which it falls into while looking at its own reflection”!

But on the positive side, Jackdaws are highly social birds, they pair for life, and have strong male/female bonding.
They are the only known species to share their food, and an individual initiates the sharing, rather than the flock stealing the food. They are notorious for nesting in church steeples, so they’re obviously spiritually inclined……..

Well, it was a wonderful experience for me as a young lad, having a wild bird as my close companion. Perhaps it’s the Wombwell blood…………..?

15 Responses to “My pet Jackdaw”

  1. Another not so wonderful childhood memory has just come back to me reading this.
    As I’ve mentioned before, my Ma was the ladies bathing hut(changing rooms)attendant. For people who fancied a swim but didn’t bring their cossies for a small fee one could hire a blue wool costume. Crickey they were wicked! Like an underwear version of the “hair shirt”. They were like stepping into a big Brillo pad! Rough would never cover the actual feeling of this blue wool, and heaven knows how many kids were sexually scarred as a result of wearing one. And of course they got very heavy once wet from swimming, so many embarrassing moments were brought about by them.
    My gonads still shirk at the thought!

  2. What a wonderful story and great memories 🙂 I found this as I too have cared for a Jackdaw (with a broken wing) for about 6 weeks but have not seen him since Saturday and can only hope that he’s ok…….

  3. I was by the lake at Elms farm park today, watching what I thought was a Jackdaw fly above me.
    And again I started to wonder why “Jack” had chosen me for a friend. I’d love to see some deep spiritual meaning as to why, that perhaps he was my familiar or a spirit guide.
    Then I remembered a story I’d heard Brian Wilson tell. He said him and his Ma were walking back from the shops one day, early 1966 and they encountered a man walking a dog. When they got to Brian and Audrey the dog wagged it’s tail and Brian and his Mum made a fuss of the dog. Yet the dog barked at the next person the dog and his owner passed. Brian couldn’t figure it, and asked his Ma why the dog had liked them and not the fellow behind them.
    “Good vibrations” she said.

  4. How fitting for you! Lovely story and as it was the first Beach Boys song to knock me off my feet, and gave everybody good vibrations, I believe it!

  5. I too have experienced the friendship of a Jackdaw. We currently have one that has seemed to adopt us and the people in the close we live in in Dorset. Our ” Jack ” does speak he says Jack, Jackjack and come on. It’s wonderful. he loves children but has unfortunately discovered the local secondary school where most are fascinanted by him, unfortunately there is a element that have tried to hurt him (their parents would be disgusted by them). he has recently taken to knocking on the classroom windows and has on occasions actually got in. this has led to him been labled a nuisance and the powers to be want him removed. this is such a shame as if he was just ignored he’d get bored and go on to something else. we really fear for his safety but we cannot see anyway of helping him. Any ideas would be lovely. He’s even got a facebook page and loads of friends!!!!!!!!

  6. I too know a tame Jackdaw. His name is Blacky and he is something of a local celebrity. From what I can gather Blacky was found in a wrecked nest and hand reared by a neighbour. Blacky comes most days,loves to sit on peoples shoulders and likes to eat butter and sultanas and sounds like no other Jackdaw. He has 290 friends on Facebook

  7. The previously mentioned local celebrity, Blacky Jackdaw, has made a pile of nesting material in my airing cupboard. Does anyone know why it would do that ? Is He a She ? Can I expect the clatter of tiny talons ?

  8. I too had a Jackdaw befriend me for a childhood summer. He (she?) was very sociable and would follow me around wherever I went – even following our car from the air on occasion, and could suddenly turn up when we were in other parts of town. He became a celebrity in the local area (so did I by proxy!) and I’ve never been so popular at school as when he followed me there. Like you I was amazed (and rather proud) that a wild animal had suddenly, inexplicably, decided it was more fun to hang out with some eight year old kid than with his feathered kin. Corvids are amazing characters, highly intelligent and very amusing to watch – I remember I used to hide nuts under bottle tops and he would always pick the right one (well ok, maybe not that clever a trick, but it impressed me at the time!). It still saddens me to remember his sudden disappearance – whatever happened I hope he had many good summers after that! I actually found this site because I’ve recently started thinking about the possibility of getting a pet Corvid – did you know you’ve got the top slot in google for “pet jackdaw”? Hail Eris!

  9. Back in the seventies I had a pet Jackdaw called Boots, the PDSA asked me to look after this baby bird, so I had to hand rear this little terror.! I used to feed him/her on baby bird food called Glukfix.! I think, also my little Jackie loved live woodlice.! and in the end I had to ask the neighbours if I could go in their gardens to collect woodlice as I’d run out of them in my garden, my bird would take off the wood pigeons that lived in a tree near me, Boots could warble like them and would move along the branch they were roosting on just to push them off.! my Boots could open a box of matches take out the matches and drop them on the floor, I don’t know how Boots did that because I never taught him/her how to do that.
    I was in bed one morning when I heard tapping on the window and there was Boots calling me to get in.
    Sadly I only had boots for about nine months as big storm came along an blew a lot of birds away, including my Boots, I searched for weeks but never saw Boots again.

  10. My son and I were playing golf yesterday, when we noticed an injured jackdaw in the field next door.
    We brought it home and it seems very trusting. It’s an adult, wild bird, but it accepts food from our hands.

  11. what lovely stories, i too have a pet jackdaw, i have had him about 4 weeks now but he doesnt have any feathers from his ears to under his chin does anyone know why….he only eats dried meal worms even though if got him live ones…he doesnt know what to do with them…He fell off his pearch the other night and i thought he had broken his neck, i stayed up till 4 in the morning with him to make sure he was going to be ok….he now has a new large cage and seems to be back to his old self of mischief…

  12. i have a fledgling jackdaw, had it a week. Saw 2 adult jackdaws attacking it and driving it to the ground, went and did my shopping and on the way back home saw it now alone on the side of the road, so i walked over and picked it up and took it was very weak and wouldn’t eat so i opened its beak and fed it mealworms and sweetcorn. A couple of days later it started to feed itself. Now its happily trufffling through my houseplant flower pot extracting its mealworms and seeds which it buried in there earlier ! When the time comes that it wants to be free i will release it, i live on a farm with plenty of wild jackdaws eating all my duck food so it will have company but until then I shall just enjoy watching him do his own thing in the house !!

  13. We’ve had our jackdaw about 3 months, we had it from a tiny youngster, it won’t live in a cage and doesn’t live in a cage, it flys about the house and is free to go if it wants but will only go out on our shoulders. I love Corvids and when I was a kid I kept a Magpie and a beautiful little Jay which used to come everywhere I went

  14. Just found a Jackdaw in my allotment & got him in a chicken cage with food. I am 56 now, when I was c. 17 me and a friend caught one & tried to feed it. We let it go a week or so later on some land near an old beck.
    A few weeks later – i was at 6th form college – there was a knock at my bedroom window…it was the jackdaw again. How did he know where I lived???
    Now another; I also write a wildlife page for the town magazine- jack will be in it!
    from Guisborough/ Cleveland UK

  15. I’ve just got 3 really young jackdaws to hand rear they were in a chimney being demolished why did i get them? Well its because i’ve hand reared loads of birds of all kinds and released them successfully but undoubtedly my favorites are the corvid family,they rear easy and release easy oh i forgot to say i keep handling any birds to a minimum to save imprinting especially corvids and raptors

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