Photo by Daniil Komov on Pexels.com

Storm Arwen came and stripped the cover off my rabbit enclosure. It sucked two plant pots off the small wall between the patio and the garden, and smashed them to bits. Other than that, we didn’t do too bad. Even the dilapidated fence stood surprisingly firm and I was relieved to see the very old willow at the end of the village had survived. Scarborough had a lot of trees fall and someone in Filey had their car crushed by a falling tree. It was a bad one. I woke at five to the booming wind that sounded as if it wanted to rip the room straight off. But it didn’t. The next morning it raged on, the rabbit enclosure roof finally gave way and I decided enough was enough and the rabbits would have to come in. So with one soft white body under each arm I wrestled my way up the garden and shoved them in one of the larger indoor hutches. Reader, they are not happy. The outside rabbit enclosure is 16 feet by 10 feet. They did not want to leave it. Still, sometimes these things are necessary and I think they might have literally been blown away if I hadn’t got them in. The trees are bare now, winter has landed. We even had snow. Usually we avoid snow when the rest of the country is knee deep, on account of being on the coast, but not this time. As I sit here writing this it is all gone, leaving a slimy mush of leaves.

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Amongst the detritus of the nesting materials that I pulled out of the chimney I found sticks, lots and lots of sticks, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream containers (yes, plural), raw hide dog treats (plural) rabbit fur My efforts to give the nesting birds the rabbit grooming fluff has paid off), a hair brush (not mine), wrapping paper, white paper, newspaper, feathers, the bones of what might have been another bird, pebbles (how?), hair ties, a part of a cat toy, twine that I recognised as coming from the bales of hay I order for my rabbits, moss, shiny paper, shiny ribbon. There was something quite moving about the amount of non twig material. I could imagine the group moving about the village, collecting the items, studiously examine everything then dropping these treasures down the chimney. I have left bread out for the jackdaws almost every day since, as a kind of apology, an offering to the god of birds. They didn’t return to the roof for a few days, but now they are back, all seems to be forgiven.

The jackdaws matt black shapes are finding their way into the poems for the new collection. I am beginning to find my feet with the new poems and am enjoying that feeling of sinking into them. All is good.

Until next time


3 thoughts on “Jackdaws

  1. Diana Stevens

    I know how you feel Wendy – we too had a jackdaw fall down our chimney and die some years ago. Unfortunately there was no easy way to get to it because we only have one chimney that services the log burner. We had to get a chimney sweep in to clear the chimney. We have since had a cowl put on the top so that the birds can’t nest there any more. They do still come to the garden though.


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