OUTDOORS: Nature Note

OWNERS OF old houses should keep an eye on their chimneys at this time of year, for there is a good chance that jackdaws will have nested in them, and if flues are not cleared during summer, the first fire on a chilly autumn evening may set off a spectacular blaze aloft.

The grey-capped birds - smaller cousins of rooks and crows - always seek out enclosed spaces, and seem to like nesting close to man. If they gain access to roof spaces, they sometimes build colossal structures, adding to them year after year until the pile of sticks is several feet high.Very sociable creatures, they live in colonies of large family groupings, and although less notorious than magpies for robbing other birds' nests, they do eat eggs.

Like magpies, they have a reputation for general thieving. Experiments in which children set out shiny objects confirmed that jackdaws are attracted by bright trinkets, perhaps thinking that they are drops of water, and sometimes carry them off - a habit reflected in the Victorian poem by the Rev RH Barham about the jackdaw of Rheims, which stole the archbishop's ring, was cursed and fell ill - but then recovered when the curse was lifted, and turned devout.