10 Nov 2012

Jackdaws, rooks and crows: on behaviour and habit

I should say at the outset that I am not an ornithologist: just an occasional and curious observer of things that go on around him. I was struck, just this morning, by the apparently strange behaviour of one of those medium-sized black birds (I think it was a jackdaw, but it could have been a rook), that hangs out in the park area below the building in which I live in Paris. One can find ways of determining whether these birds are crows, rooks or jackdaws. Apparently jackdaws have blue surrounds to their eyes, but I didn't get close enough.

I should also apologize for the poor quality of the photos in this article. They were taken with my telephone and a zoom effect to get close enough without causing the bird to fly away, despite the boldness these animals often show. And I was on my way back from the gym and a good session, so my arm was not that steady.

Anyway, what you see in the first three pictures are this jackdaw (let's call it that as I am not too clear about the distinctions) pecking at the wrapping placed around an electric cable due to feed a lamp-post that has not yet been fitted. Why was the bird doing that?

The only explanation I can come up with is that force of habit has engrained the idea that plastic, and particularly the white plastic bag variety, often contains food, and so it is worth pecking at to get inside to the goodies. These birds hang out all the time in the park, perching on the surrounding buildings, cackling and crowing, squabbling and chasing away the former winged inhabitants which were pigeons. Their cry is pretty unpleasant, but they have clearly adapeted well to human presence and untidiness, and will swoop down on any object seen on the ground. I am pretty sure that this one thought he might find some bread or a sausage or something inside the plastic wrapping. I guess it proves that you can fool some of the people, at least some of the time.

On a recent visit to Vienna, I saw another jackdaw who had perhaps become an art lover, perching on one of the sphinx sculptures in the gardens of the Belvedere palace. This was just after seeing a young lady, a Japanese tourist, cupping one of the breasts of another sphinx with her hand whilst her boyfriend photographed the scene. I do not know if they then reversed roles, but I missed the picture in any case!


  1. David, I’m not an ornithologist either, but a keen bird watcher. I do not believe many real “crows” fly around in the Paris area. But true, the generic mane “crow” applies to many species of the genus “corvus”.
    But you may be interested to read that maïze derivatives are used in the insulators of electric wiring. It is very well known that mice and rats LOVE to nibble at the cable harness of cars, let alone 4x4’s, that you abandon for a few days in wild nature. One even sells sprays of rodent repellants to use under the bonnet of motor vehicles !

  2. Has to be a jackdaw then, or maybe a rook. Didn't think it was a crow. The maize idea is interesting.