Rescued Skye bird Sooty spreads wings to become local celebrity


Sooty and Gareth in the workshop – Photo: Gareth Samuels

A jackdaw who fell down a chimney in north Skye has become something of a local celebrity after being adopted by a family on the island.

Sooty was rescued from a fireplace in Tote House near Skeabost back in May by local resident Gareth Samuels.

Since then Sooty has become a family favourite and a local celebrity in the process.

Gareth told the Free Press: “It was back in May when I found little Sooty at Tote House — we look after the house and the grounds when the owners aren’t there.

“I guess a nest must have fallen down and there he was in a heap at the bottom of the fire — hence Sooty.

“He was only a couple of weeks old, so we took him in and fed him with a view to saving him — we didn’t intend to keep him as a pet.

“When you read into it, crows that are hand-reared tend to struggle to survive in the wild — because they are such intelligent creatures, and they are taught all the tricks of the trade they need to know by their parents for a year or two.

“It was quite a big decision to make.”

Fed on a varied diet including dog food, egg yolks, berries, and mealworm, Sooty regained his strength and soon adjusted to his new life.

“He started taking his first flights in the workshop in early June, I didn’t let him out for a few days as I was worried he would take off and disappear and then perish as he couldn’t look after himself yet. But actually, he didn’t stray at all until the end of August.

“I would reward him with treats like a dog when he came when I called. I would say, ‘Sooty, shoulder,’ and he would fly from where he was and land on my arm or shoulder, and then I’d give him a treat. 

“Also he would respond to being told off if he pecked or overstepped the mark.”

Gareth’s eldest daughter Iris with Sooty – Photo Gareth Samuels

He added: “My daughters had a close bond with him, if they were riding on their bikes then Sooty would be on their shoulders or the handlebars. If we went for a walk with the dog then he would come with us and sit on our black lab’s back — he is a real character, it was great.”

Having spent most of the summer with Gareth and his family, Sooty set off to explore the local area in what proved to be an eventful trip.

“He disappeared for a bit and then he came back one night and landed on the window sill in the front room, his legs were damaged or broken,” said Gareth.

“I think he had been exploring at some of the houses down at Tote or Skeabost and had either got attacked by an animal or hit by a human or car — I don’t know.

“We took him to the vet and got him some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and he was alright, and off he went again.”

After a short break away in Devon in September, Gareth and family returned to find Sooty missing again but soon located him in Bernisdale.

“Some people liked him and other people didn’t because he was trying to get into houses and cars — he sees humans as equals.

“We went on a rescue mission and brought him back but he went away again, he was with some jackdaw friends and he has apparently been exploring Waternish, Staffin and all over the place — which is quite cool. 

“So we haven’t seen him for about four weeks.”

Gareth said that he had recently become aware of Sooty’s adventures through social media.

“Amelia, my wife, saw on Facebook that someone had posted about this friendly crow and then other people pipped up saying they had a similar experience and then this whole stream started a couple of days ago.

“It was quite nice really, as I was worried that people might take umbrage at him but most people seem to really like him.”

Commenting on what fellow islanders should do if Sooty pays them a visit, Gareth said: “He really craves contact and socialisation. They can suffer from loneliness like other animals such as guinea pigs. 

“He is still a wild animal and doesn’t like to be petted or stroked very much — he’ll bear it but he won’t like it. And don’t feed them dairy or chocolate because birds are lactose intolerant and chocolate is bad for most animals.

“It’s not just food he is after when he graces you with his presence, but attention.

“If he finds his way into your house, don’t panic, just put your hand in front of him and he will go on, then you can take him out.”