Country diary: the jackdaws lengthen ‘jack’ calls in excitement or anxiety

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Sandy, Bedfordshire: Round and round circled the crows, an audience looking for an event

Walls, windows and a mid-morning cuppa break were no defence against a rising rush of sound that demanded investigation. The hiss and swish, like a battering hailstorm but on a blue-sky day, arose from somewhere out of doors. It flushed us out into the back garden – a mistake. A dozen or so jackdaws zipped over, and they were heading for the main action, towards a swell that came from over the other side of the rooftop.

We raced back through the house and opened the front door to a sky darkened with crows. I hazarded a hundred, but it could have been twice that number. The jackdaws flocked by disciplined instinct and swilled around half a dozen lime trees, quilting the air with vapourless trails. A few carrion crows mingled among them, but they abided by no rules, often beating across the jackdaw traffic. I saw one lumpen hulk of a crow collide with its smaller cousin, sending it into an open-winged cartwheel. The magpies stayed true to their ancestry as forest birds and jumped, as if nervously, from branch to branch.

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