The name Daw (Old Low Germ. Daha)
probably comes from the bird's cry, as seems also to be the nickname
commonly prefixed. Perhaps the earliest instance of nicknaming birds
is to be found in Langland's Piers the Plowman, written soon after
1400, where the SPARROW is called "Philip", and the practice subsequently
extended. Swift in his Description of a Salamander thus mentions
"As mastiff-dogs in modern
Call'd Pompey, Scipio,
and Caesar ;
As pyes and daws are often
With Christian nicknames
like a child."
There are two species known as Jackdaws.
The Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) is the species found in the
UK, Europe and Western Asia. The normal glossy black plumage of the
Corvidae is in the Eurasian Jackdaw when adult, diversified by its
having the hinder part of the head of a delicate ashy-grey colour.
It is only the hinder part of the head that wears this light tint, a fact
which renders improbable that the "russet-pated choughs" of Shakespeare
Night's Dream Act iii Scene. 2 were birds of this species (see Chough).
The second species, the Daurian Jackdaw
(Corvus dauuricus) inhabits the southernmost areas of east-Siberia, Mongolia
and the whole of China. Not only has the Daurian Jackdaw a broad
collar of a pure white, but the lower parts of the body are white also.
The Eurasian Jackdaw is the smallest as well as
one of the best known in the UK of the Corvidae
and its relatives). Although the Jackdaw is much less numerous than
the ROOK, it inhabits the outskirts of even large towns as well as the
country. From its diverting manners and its aptitude for imitating
the sounds it hears, it is sometimes kept in captivity more or less modified.
In its natural state the Jackdaw differs from most
Corvidae in the choice it makes of breeding-quarters, nearly
always placing its nest in some hollow tree or convenient corner in a building
- a church-tower (from its being seldom ascended) especially affording
a secure position. It will equally make itself a home in a rabbit-burrow,
a sea-girt cliff, or contrive to find a suitable receptacle for its progeny
among the sticks that form the base of a huge Rook's nest which has been
accumulating for years.
Gamekeepers often view it with great contempt, for it
is undoubtedly ready to rob the eggs of other birds when occasion offers.
But it is as omnivorous as a Rook in feeding, and there is scarcely a flock
of Rooks that is not accompanied by more or fewer Jackdaws, who act as
the light company of the Rook's heavier regiment.