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Part 12 - The Jackdaw and the Grey Heron

Jackdaw – Corvus monedula

A photo of a Jackdaw taken in May 2008 by Rhys Haden

This smallish member of the crow tribe with its grey eyes and grey “shawl” is a regular garden visitor, often making off with the lion’s share of any scraps put out. Although jackdaws are not quite agile enough to extract food from bird feeders in the conventional manner, I have seen these clever birds appear to shake feeders or the branches from which they hang in order get their contents to spill. Jackdaws sometimes nest in trees but perhaps more frequently in holes and crevices – and occasionally even at ground level in burrows.

Chimneys are often chosen and ours has been home to several jackdaw families over the last few years. The birds just keep dropping sticks and twigs into the space until something lodges – and this may take some time! Another pair of jackdaws is nesting in the roof space of a house visible from ours, making use of a missing tile to gain access and introducing a truly remarkable amount of nesting material. Jackdaws are gregarious, often associating with rooks and often, too, very vocal. Their name is apparently imitative of the sound they make but the first part of it may also suggest either small size or familiarity or both, as in jack rabbit, jack snipe, jack-in-the-box, jack-by-the-hedge (hedge garlic) and a host of other examples.

Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea

A line drawing of the Grey Heron

Measured from bill to feet, the grey heron is as large as a golden eagle and its very broad wings and slow deliberate flight make it quite unmistakable. Herons are not exactly common – there are reckoned to be only around 10,000 in Britain as opposed, for example, to perhaps 400,000 jackdaws - but they are so conspicuous that, where present, they are unlikely ever to be overlooked. Herons generally nest communally and the numbers at each of the 15 heronries in Sussex have been closely monitored for many years. “Our” herons are probably either from Firle Park or from pairs nesting near Iford.

Herons can almost always be found on Lewes Brooks – much of which is within the Parish of Kingston – and one evening I counted no fewer than seven in the field to the east of the Newhaven Road on the Kingston side of the garden centre. However, I had seen relatively few herons in the village itself until a few weeks ago. Then, over a period of days in early April, I saw one or sometimes a pair virtually every day for a week or more, over St Pancras Green, to the east of the Street and, once, over my own house. Herons sometimes make themselves unpopular by making off with prized fish from garden ponds but they’d be very welcome to visit my pond any time as long as they promised not to puncture the liner! They’d find no fish here but perhaps a few frogs or newts.

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