Jackdaws are intelligent, adaptable members of the crow family, at home in close proximity to humans, and noisily raising their young in residential areas, on rooftops, chimneys and church towers. Our guide to jackdaw nesting takes a closer look at where they are most likely to be observed raising their young, so keep reading if you’re keen to know more.
Once confined to rural areas, jackdaws are now common in urban settings too, and have adapted their nesting habits well to towns and cities, frequently nesting in chimneys and cracks and crevices in the sides of buildings.
Jackdaws are cavity nesters, seeking spacious hollows in trees or buildings, sheltered from intruders and often relatively near to several other jackdaw pairs.
Jackdaws are a highly sociable species, with large family flocks remaining in close association throughout the year – young jackdaws help older, more established pairs with nest construction, collecting sticks and dropping them into cavities to form what can become giant, messy twiggy bundles inside both natural and manmade cavities.
Nest boxes may also be seen as an attractive readymade housing option for jackdaw pairs. As a resident species, and one that mates for life, jackdaws may nest year after year in the same location, so if you’d like to know more about when their nesting season starts and how long it lasts, then please read on.
|Key Jackdaw Nesting Facts
|March to June
|Sticks, moss, feathers, animal fur, mud, dung
|Old cavity nests, usually high up in trees
|Number of broods
|4 - 5 eggs, ranging from 2 - 9
|Pale blue, with dark speckling
|35 x 25 mm
|20 days, by the female
|30 days after hatching
|Occasionally, but will renovate
|Use nest boxes
Jackdaws are cavity nesters, who use old holes that have been excavated by Woodpeckers and other larger bird species
Jackdaws are secondary cavity nesters, raising their young in natural hollows in tree trunks or using old holes excavated by woodpeckers and other larger bird species.
In urban areas, it is becoming increasingly common for nest sites to be in manmade structures, such as chimneys, church steeples and cracks and crevices in the walls of buildings and on rooftops.
In coastal and rural locations, crevices in rock and cliff faces may provide a suitable shelter in which nesting jackdaws may choose to raise their young.
Although jackdaws remain in the same locality for their entire lives, it’s uncommon for them to reuse the same nest without giving it a complete overhaul.
They add more sticks and other nesting materials to an existing nest, rather than reusing it as they left it, meaning that nests have the potential to become extremely large and messy constructions.
On rare occasions, jackdaws have also been reported to make use of large, non-cavity nests that have been abandoned by rooks or magpies.
If a suitable nest site exists in a garden, then jackdaws will have no objection to using it. They are sociable, intelligent birds and are no strangers to human company, seeming to have something of an affinity with people and are unafraid of their presence.
Nest boxes can be used to offer them a sheltered and suitable spot for laying their eggs and raising their young.
Alternatively, jackdaws commonly nest on rooftops, so while not in the back garden itself, they are frequent visitors to feeders and bird tables and are regularly seen foraging on the ground below.
Jackdaw feeding one of its chicks in the nest, built on a cliff face, by the sea
As cavity nesters, jackdaws will readily move into nest boxes that are big enough to support their nest constructions. Boxes designed for tawny owls or kestrels are ideal.
It’s unusual for jackdaws to nest in the branches of a tree itself, although on rare occasions, it has been observed for sheltered stick nests to be crafted in or on top of dense evergreen hedgerows. More commonly, jackdaws will seek a cavity in the trunk of a tree and are not picky when it comes to tree species.
Jackdaws routinely nest in rooftop chimney pots, in church towers, and high up in hollows made by other bird species in the trunks of mature or dying trees. Nest boxes may also be used, especially when these are mounted at heights of 3 m (9 ft 8 in) or more.
Jackdaw with a large stick in its beak, for nesting material
Jackdaws build large, untidy nests inside cavities, using bundles of sticks, dropped somewhat haphazardly inside the cavity opening, creating a bulky structure. An internal cup-shaped depression is formed, and lined with softer nesting materials, including fur, moss, and rotting wood.
The size of a jackdaw’s nest depends on the space available in the cavity chosen. The larger the space, the more sticks will be dropped inside, increasing the overall size of the nest structure.
One such gigantic nest was discovered behind an opening in a church tower, measuring 3 m (10 ft) wide and 1.8 m (6 ft) high with a 0.6-m (2-ft)-deep cup.
Jackdaw looking out of its hollow high up in a tree, where it's nesting
Jackdaws raise one brood a year, usually nesting between March and early June. Two broods in the same season are exceptionally rare, but occasional reports of an additional clutch as late as August have been recorded.
Jackdaws incubate their eggs for between 17 and 19 days on average, but sometimes as long as 23 days. Incubation begins before the clutch is complete, and as a result, eggs do not all hatch at the same time. Later hatchlings in a clutch have a lower survival rate than those that hatch first.
Jackdaw hatchlings remain in the nest for a further four to five weeks, typically fledging at around 30 days, but continue to be closely associated with parents after leaving the nest.
In Britain and northern Europe, jackdaws lay their eggs from late March onwards, with April being the peak laying month. Jackdaw pairs mate for life, and raise one brood together each season.
Jackdaws don’t use nests outside of the breeding season, but they roost in trees near to where they hatched and tend to remain in the same local area for their entire lives. Sometimes, in winter, birds from continental Europe migrate to Britain, and form larger flocks with resident birds.
Jackdaw perched outside of the nesting cavity
Jackdaws are flexible and adaptable in their approach to nesting, but will usually lay their eggs in a cavity, such as a tree hole, a crevice in a rock face or a rooftop chimney.
They gather sticks to drop into their chosen nest site, and can frequently be seen and heard in spring busily carrying sticks, twigs and other nesting materials and dropping them into the spot they’ve chosen to lay their eggs.
Large twigs and sticks are used to form a platform base inside a hollow or crevice in a rock face. Dung and mud are added to bind the sticks together and mosses, decaying wood, feathers, wool and animal fur are used to line the inner cup where the eggs are laid.
Males and females work together to build their nest, and are frequently helped by younger unpaired flock members that are not ready to breed. Jackdaws regularly nest in close proximity to other pairs, and it’s common for pairs to return to the same cavity they have used in the past to successfully raise their young.
Jackdaw gathering moss for nest construction
Jackdaws’ eggs are pale blue in colour, and marked with blackish-brown speckles. They are smooth and glossy and measure approximately 36 mm (1.4 in) by 26 mm (1 in).
Jackdaws lay between 3 and 8 eggs, with 4 to 5 being the most common number. Hatching is asynchronous, with the eggs that were laid first also hatching first. This means that later hatchlings are often weaker and less likely to survive than the first to hatch out of a clutch.
Incubation is by the female jackdaw alone, although the male remains nearby and brings food to his mate. Once the young have hatched, males and females both feed the nestlings, but brooding of chicks remains the sole responsibility of the female.
Jackdaw in flight with sticks, returning to the nesting hole
Young jackdaws develop quickly and are ready to leave the nest by the time they reach 30 days. Once they have fledged, they remain closely associated with their parents and parental feeding continues for as long as is necessary.
Yearling jackdaws are often observed living in communal flocks with their parents until they reach 2 years, at which point they may be ready to breed for the first time.
Jackdaw pairs raise one single brood each breeding season. Second broods are highly uncommon. Each brood consists, on average, of four to five young. Young jackdaws typically breed for the first time when they are around 2 years old.
A pair of young Jackdaw chicks, almost ready to fledge the nest box
Nest site selection is key for jackdaws, and they will use locations that offer a sheltered space with as little chance of being disturbed as possible, leaving them to raise their young in a secure, protected spot.
If a nest is destroyed by a human or a predator, jackdaws will have no choice but to abandon, leaving their chicks to die from starvation.
Jackdaws are cavity nesters and do not lay their eggs at ground level. Instead, they seek a hollow in a tree or a crevice in the side of a building, usually several metres above the ground, for example, on a rooftop.
With the exception of females brooding eggs or young chicks, jackdaws do not nest in cavities overnight. Instead, they head to parks and woodlands and roost overnight together in the sheltered upper branches of tall trees.
Jackdaws may be tempted to lay their eggs in a nest box with a large opening, for example those designed to house tawny owls, mounted at least 3 m (9.8 ft) off the ground.
Boxes positioned high up on the side of a building or upper branches of a tall tree, with a clear flight path to the opening are particularly favoured. As they are colonial nesters, several nest boxes grouped together may tempt breeding jackdaws to your garden.
Sometimes, you may need to do nothing at all except have a chimney on your roof. Jackdaws are known for building nests inside chimneys, and if they choose yours, they will certainly make their presence known, especially when the noisy young chicks reach a few weeks of age.
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