Jas is a juvenile jackdaw. Although I refer to her as “she” for convenience; I have no idea of her gender but think that she may be a boy, due to her dominant behaviour. I’ll get her DNA tested at some point.

I was given her last year by a friend, who bought her from someone who incubated and raised her, ¬†before selling her on as a crow. I am quite horrified that people do such things, but that is immaterial to tonight’s tale. My good friend had no reason to disbelieve the story she was told about Jas’s beginnings or species, she is quite naive and came to corvids like many of us, when she picked up an injured baby crow, Jimmy; and took her home to look after. She has not had Jimmy very long and thought that the youngster would benefit from the company of her own kind, so started to search for a companion. Jimmy has recently been DNA tested so we know that she is a girl.

It’s only since Crow came to live with me that I can tell baby corvids apart, so although the bird was obviously a jackdaw to me, when I went to pick her up, her carer argued that she was definately a crow, as that is what she had been told by Jas’s vendor. I would have been equally fooled a few years ago.

My friend only had Jas for only a few days before she realised that she could not cope with such a hooligan. Jas, having been incubated in a plastic box and brought up by a human, never seeing her natural parents; has no idea what she is. She is only young, less than a year old. Jackdaws’ eyes change to silver when they get to about a year old; I expect Jas’s eyes to change to their adult colour soon.

Jackdaws live in huge colonies, and youngsters are brought up to know the rules and hierarchies of their very large families. Jas has never been checked for her ways and has some terrible habits as a result. She is the avian equivalent of the toddler you sometimes see screaming for attention and biting their parent at supermarket checkouts.

By temperament she is friendly and will fly to anyone, but upon landing on your hand she will then hammer at your fingers with her beak. I discourage this by putting her back on her perch. She is only given rewards if she is on my hand, but not when she is trying to excavate the bones of my fingers. We have had a little breakthrough when she came into my bedroom to sit with me while I practised the clarinet. Perhaps it is because she does not have to compete with other birds then, but she behaved in a much more civilised manner. I never thought that my clarinet playing would be the music which hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

None of the other birds like her much. She is tiny compared to them, but she is fast and can turn on a sixpence in the air. She is aggressive and has no manners and I think that they are mostly a little afraid of her which is a pity as she wants to be friends, but has not learned how to do this. I have no doubt that she will get there eventually, but it is hard work teaching her the ropes.

At night, she likes to sit on a perch close to Mary, the macaw. All the birds have little songs and rhymes of their own which I sing to them before they go to bed. While I sing Mary her song, Jas waits patiently and quietly for her own turn, next to me. It is very sweet.

Last night I was singing Mary her song, and Jas hopped onto my hand and started stabbing my finger as usual. Mary took exception to this, most probably because it interrupted her special time rather than because she was upset on my behalf. No matter, she made her scary face at Jas who stopped immediately. Hallelujah! A bird telling another bird the rules works better than me trying to work out the correct body language.

Well, Jas sat as good as gold, which made me less careful than I usually am with the little one. After singing Mary’s song (several times as is usual), Crow started yelling for her song although it was not her turn. Like a fool I started to sing Crow’s song to her, and Jas flew straight at me and stabbed me in the eye. There does not seem to be any real damage, but oh; does it hurt!

It is completely my own fault. Apart from the fact that Jas could have reasonably expected her own song at that point, I know that she does not like Crow’s song, which I usually only sing to Crow when Jas is elsewhere, I am usually much more on my guard with Jas, and ought to have realised that it was only Mary keeping her in check and could not last beyond Mary’s night -time ritual. A very painful lesson and one I will not forget in a hurry.


Dogs and birds

There is much discussion, which can be very heated on both sides; on the relationship between birds and predatory animals such as dogs and cats. Commonly, one household, this one included; keeps both. It is generally accepted that, no matter how friendly and forgiving your companion cat or dog is, their predatory instincts are capable of kicking in and then a moment’s inattention can result in a tragedy. Dogs’ saliva, the bacteria in a cat’s claws, can turn even a slight, barely noticeable, wound into a painful death for a bird.

Also of course, a bird is a very fragile creature, seemingly made of skin, feathers and air. Even a gently grab can crush and kill. Rescue organisations, quite rightly; constantly push the message that birds, dogs and cats should be kept separately.

As readers of this blog know, my girl Crow; now a big, strapping young adult; grew up in the company of two African Greys, Parrot and Darling, also an elderly collie, Fly; and a younger Springer Spaniel, Sam. Crow interacted with all these people, being particularly attached to Parrot (who still does not care for her) and Sam. She spent much of her babyhood snuggling up to Sam and teasing Fly but there was never any malice on Crow’s part, and the dogs were both very good with her. They recognised her as a baby of the household, but in any case were not allowed alone with her and had their own safe place to retreat. As she got older and her games grew more boisterous and consequently painful, I moved Crow and the dogs apart from each other, crow bites hurt, a lot. I did not want any accidents and even though I trusted the dogs, I did not trust a juvenile crow to act in her own best interests.

In the couple of years since I last wrote here, there have been a lot of changes in the flock, both feathered, furred and naked apes. Two years ago I rescued a very sad macaw, Mary; and have somehow inherited a lunatic juvenile jackdaw a few months ago My old boy Fly died and a year ago I rescued another collie, another Fly; who I call Fly Too. Perhaps the biggest change came at the beginning of last year when my elderly mother fell and was admitted to hospital. She was not able to look after herself any longer, so I brought her to live with me when she was ready for discharge. 

It was a joy and privilege for Mother to live with me, until we sadly lost her last month. The reason I mention her though, is because my house had to be completely rearranged before she could move in. I lost the big room at the front of the house to Mother, and one of the upstairs rooms was also taken over by some of her belongings. These rooms are where the birds primarily had been living. The dogs were in the kitchen area. With Mother here, they all ended up in the kitchen area and I built an emergency aviary/lean-to/conservatory onto the back of the house so that the birds could go out and come in as they wished.

This has proved to be not at all. I have to force them outside and close the door, but through the winter it was too cold – the new aviary is north facing and cold; the birds are used to heating. Also, the birds like to be where the action is. I had very much less time, but although I understood the risks, I felt it was beyond me to do more than to minimise them.

The dark days of winter are when all the birds become hormonal and start thinking seriously about finding a mate and settling down. Parrot and Darling have taken over the tiny area at the top of the stairs and have chewed up the carpet and into the walls. I have put a large log there, which trips me up when I go to bed, but Darling especially loves to turn it into wood chips which I recycle as tinder for the fire. The dogs can’t get upstairs which is closed off with a babygate so they are safe.

Mary macaw never comes to the ground. She has a large, wooden stepladder in the middle of the kitchen, her station. She sits and chews it, shrieks very loudly if the dogs even walk underneath her tail, and moves between there, the top of Darling’s house which is also covered with logs for chewing, water to bathe in and other toys; and the window which has heavy-duty bars to stop her eating her way through and into the aviary. There is a stable door, open at the top; but she chooses not to use it. She prefers to chew, and this, after all; is what parrots do.

Jas the baby also does not come to the ground, but flies around from the various perches. I have a ceiling pulley, long since appropriated by various birds. Although Jas likes to go out and come in again, her favourite activity is to remove the wooden bars on the pulley. I have sat and watched her all day and still don’t know how she does this. She is a tiny, dot of a thing, but when she is up there, the bars move gradually to one end until they fall out. I never stand under the pulley these days.

This leaves Crow. Crow is coming up four now, and is desperate to settle down. The Greys, her first choice, are spurning her advances. As soon as I let them out in the morning, she jumps into one of the houses and calls pitifully to them. They ignore her and chew their log and the wall between my house and that of my neighbours.

She actually has her eyes on Mary Macaw. Mary is quite taken with her and will call to Crow from the wrong side of the kitchen window if Crow is in the aviary. However, Mary does not have a cage, just a stand; so Crow recently decided that the whole of the kitchen floor is her territory and if she clears it of interlopers, then perhaps Mary will come down and be her love. This is where things became very tricky.

I generally boot Crow out into the aviary first thing, and then close the door to stop her flying straight back in. This means that Jas can’t go in and out, but no matter. At night when Crow comes in, she hops straight into Darling’s house and I shut the door on her. Darling and Parrot now sleep together in Parrot’s house at night. There is very little opportunity for the dogs and birds to actually make physical contact. Still, it is too easy for a tragedy can occur.

A few weeks ago, while Mother was still with me, I went in the kitchen. Somehow, Crow had gotten in and had been bullying Fly Too. This dog is very gentle but Crow does not like her as she likes Sam, I guess she sees her as an interloper. I have caught the crow chasing the dog and attacking her, which is why I keep them separate. In this instance I saw Fly Too grab hold of Crow. I shouted, she dropped the bird unharmed immediately, and ran back to her bed, chased by an angry crow who had learned nothing from being in a dog’s mouth. Although Fly Too did not attempt to hurt the bird, she was just trying to protect herself; I have no doubt that if I hadn’t caught the crow and chucked her back outside; this time locking the door which had blown open, the crow would have twisted and bitten Fly or stabbed her in the eye. She takes no quarter. Nobody could blame the dog from then killing the bird, just in self protection. Crow was lucky, Fly was lucky and most of all I consider that I was lucky.

Since losing Mother, the dogs are now kept completely separately from the birds again and I can now breathe easily knowing that this kind of preventable accident should now be impossible. I hope that anyone keeping birds and predatory pets realises after reading this, that however good a friendship between cat, dog and bird can seem, and how cute it is to see them play together; it is just not worth the risk. If I had not lost half of my house temporarily; I would not have done so.