Jackdaw

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Alex Cooper

The jackdaw tends to mate for life with a single partner


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Jackdaw Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Corvidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Jackdaw Conservation Status

Jackdaw Locations

Jackdaw Locations

Jackdaw Facts

Prey
Seeds, fruits, insects, spiders, snails, carrion, and bird eggs
Fun Fact
The jackdaw tends to mate for life with a single partner
Estimated Population Size
Around 100 million
Biggest Threat
Predators
Most Distinctive Feature
The silvery white plumage around the neck
Other Name(s)
Jackerdaw, sea crow, cawdaw, caddy
Wingspan
27in
Incubation Period
17-18 days
Habitat
Farmlands, woodlands, cliffs, and urban environments
Predators
Birds of prey, stoats, weasels, polecats, cats, and rodents
Diet
Omnivore
Type
Bird
Common Name
Jackdaw
Number Of Species
1
Location
Eurasia
Nesting Location
Hollow cavities
Age of Molting
A month
Migratory
1

Jackdaw Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
  • Purple
  • Silver
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
25 mph
Lifespan
5 years on average
Weight
8 ounces
Height
13 inches

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The jackdaw is a clever and mischievous bird, a capable scavenger, and a devoted partner.

There are two recognized species of jackdaw: the western or Eurasian jackdaw, which can be found almost anywhere between Western Europe and Central Asia, and the Daurian jackdaw, which calls eastern Asia home. As members of the Corvid (crow) family, they are highly intelligent and sociable. They rank among the few tool users in the entire animal kingdom. An important piece of symbolism in many human cultures, there are many interesting facts about this clever bird.

4 Amazing Jackdaw Facts!

  • This bird has an annual molting season in the summer and autumn when it replaces its entire plumage. Its feathers will actually start turning gray with age.
  • This bird is attracted to shiny trinkets. It is often caricatured in stories as a thief.
  • While the jackdaw shouldn’t be kept as a pet, this bird can be tamed and even taught various tricks. One of the most interesting facts is that it has the remarkable ability to mimic the human voice and other sounds.
  • The jackdaw’s name comes from the word jack, which means “small,” and “daw” which is an archaic British name for the bird. However, some say “jack” comes from the jackdaw’s call that sounds like a hard “tchack.”

Scientific Name

The taxonomical classification of the jackdaw used to place it as a member of the genus Corvus (the Latin word for the raven), but now it is in its own separate genus called Coloeus (the ancient Greek word for the jackdaw). This bird is in the Order Passeriformes and Family Corvidae.

The scientific name of the western or Eurasian jackdaw species is C. monedula. Monedula is derived from a Latin word meaning money, in reference to the jackdaw’s penchant for stealing shiny trinkets. This species is found in Great Britain, western Europe, Scandinavia, northern Asia, and Northern Africa. There are four subspecies: the Nordic, Western Eurasian, Eastern Eurasian, and Algerian jackdaws.



The scientific name of the Daurian jackdaw is C. dauuricus. It can be found in eastern Siberia, Mongolia, China, and Japan. The name comes from the Dauria region of eastern Russia.

Appearance

The jackdaw is the smallest member of the Corvid family, and the eastern jackdaw may or may not be slightly smaller yet than the western one. They measure about 13 inches in height and around 8 ounces in weight. This is about the same weight as a typical drinking glass.

While sporting a familiar crow-like dark plumage, the western jackdaw is most easily identified by its pale white or grey iris and the light grey nape around the head or neck. The eastern species adults have white feathers at the nape, and the iris is dark.

Juveniles tend to have dull plumage with brown irises and take time to achieve their adult form. They also have strong black beaks and black-colored legs.

Jackdaw vs. Crow

Both birds are very easy to accidentally mistake for each other. But the crow can be identified by the larger size and the darker plumage. The light-colored plumage around the neck is an obvious giveaway of the jackdaw.

Behavior

The basis of jackdaw’s “society” is the mating pair, which usually bonds for life. Together the pair roosts and feeds in even larger colonies, sometimes consisting of many thousands of birds. While the colony members are almost completely unrelated to each other, they do appear to cooperate in the acquisition of food and resources. If one member of the colony has found an ample source of food, then it will sometimes alert other members about the location as well.

These birds make a number of sounds to communicate with each other. The most common vocalization is the familiar jack or chak greeting sound for which they’re named. They also have alarm calls, mating calls, and roosting calls. The Daurian jackdaw has a more nasal sound.

A split tailed Jackdaw sitting on a bird feeder.
The Jackdaw

is one of the most intelligent animals because it can use tools and solve problems.

©beccijane/Shutterstock.com

As members of the Corvidae family, jackdaws are thought to be some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They have the ability to use tools, solve problems, and perhaps even recognize individual human faces.

Habitat

Both species of jackdaw are normally found in farmlands, open woodlands, cliffs, and even urban habitats. Entire groups of them can be seen foraging along the ground of open terrain.

Most jackdaws stay in the same place all year round, but the northernmost populations do migrate south for the winter. They can be seen flying in massive formations during the late autumn months.

Diet

This bird is a scavenging omnivore. It will eat almost anything it can find. Large colonies can be seen foraging along the ground, sometimes side by side with crows and rooks.

The jackdaw’s diet largely consists of seeds, fruits, and small invertebrates like insects, snails, and spiders. If it happens to come across abandoned carrion or untended bird eggs, then it will make a quick meal of those as well. It also has a habit of raiding garbage bins, landfill sites, and gardens.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Western Jackdaw, Coloeus monedula, feeding its chick in the nest.

This Western Jackdaw is feeding its chick in a nest that is perhaps in a cliff.

©agsaz/Shutterstock.com

The jackdaws will create a nest in almost any kind of cavity it can find about the size of its height, including tree holes, chimneys, cliffs, attics, and buildings. The nest itself consists of an outer section lined with larger sticks and an inner section lined with wool or hair.

A male and female bird will forge a strong monogamous bond, often pairing up for life. During the annual mating season in April to July, the female will produce a brood of four to six eggs over time. She is responsible for most of the incubation duties, while the father is responsible for foraging all of the food.

The eggs hatch asynchronously (meaning at different times) in the general order in which they were laid. Sometimes the first chick will have already begun to fully fledge after about a month when the last chick is only just starting to emerge from its egg. However, if food is running particularly low, then the final chicks might be left to die.

For those that survive, the juvenile will reach full sexual maturity by around its second year. The Eurasian and Daurian jackdaw species do not interbreed according to observations in Mongolia where their two territories meet.

This bird has an average lifespan of about five years in the wild, but this lifespan can be cut short by predators, disease, and starvation.

Predators and Threats

Highly adaptable and versatile, this bird faces few threats in its natural habitat apart from predators. It is preyed upon by birds of prey, stoats, weasels, polecats, both wild and domesticated cats, and rodents. Many of these predators will seize eggs whenever they spy an opportunity, but some will prey upon the adults as well. Jackdaws will cry out and mob predators to drive them away.

Population and Conservation Status

It’s estimated that there are somewhere between 40 million and 85 million mature individuals of the Eurasian jackdaw in the wild. The population of the Daurian is smaller but still significant. The IUCN Red List considers both the Eurasian and Daurian jackdaws to be species of least concern. Their population numbers are fairly stable for now.

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Jackdaw FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is a jackdaw?

The jackdaw is the smallest member of the crow or raven family. It’s a highly intelligent and sociable bird that scavenges for food.

Does the jackdaw migrate?

Northern populations do tend to migrate south for the winter.

How many eggs does the jackdaw lay?

A single female will lay four to six light green or blue eggs with spots or blotches.

How fast does the jackdaw fly?

It can fly at speeds of around 20 to 25 miles per hour.

What is the jackdaw’s wingspan?

It has a wingspan of about 27 inches.

How tall is a jackdaw?

It stands about 13 inches in height.

What does a jackdaw look like?

It looks like a smaller version of a raven or crow, except the plumage is lighter, usually fading to gray around the neck or head.

Are there jackdaws in the US?

The United States does not have any true jackdaws, but the grackle is sometimes mistaken for one. The grackle is a blackbird rather than a crow, however.

Are jackdaws friendly?

These birds are quite gregarious and inquisitive, but humans should try to leave them alone.

What do jackdaws symbolize?

The symbolism of the jackdaw is often associated with shrewdness, intelligence, mischievousness, and even narcissism. This symbolism often has an important meaning in some northern European folklore.

Do jackdaws pair for life?

They do tend to pair for a very long time. Even if they’ve gone a few seasons without producing any offspring, they will tend to remain together because of the costs associated with finding a new mate.

Are jackdaws a pest?

Some people may consider them to be a pest, because these birds do have a habit of raiding gardens and farms.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. Britannica / Accessed November 5, 2021
  2. Discover Wildlife / Accessed November 5, 2021
  3. Bird Fact / Accessed November 5, 2021
  4. IUCN / Accessed November 5, 2021

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