Friday mystery object #145 answer

Apologies for the somewhat tardy answer to the mystery object that I gave you on Friday. Not only is it tardy, it’s not really an answer, as I still haven’t ruled out all of the possible options as to what this skull is from:

Now I’m quite happy to say it’s from a member of the crow family or corvid of some sort, but there are quite a lot of corvids out there. My first thought was Jackdaw Corvus monedula (Linnaeus, 1758), which is also what Jake thought. However, when compared to the Jackdaw on the Skullsite the bone between the eyes looks too narrow.

Barbara Powell very helpfully provided some measurements from Jackdaws in her collection, that make me think that this may still be a Jackdaw, but I have reservations, since there are several other corvids with skulls in the same size range as this specimen (6.9 cm long). The Magpie Pica pica (Linnaeus, 1758) is one that was suggested by several people (biologycurator and Leigh) and henstridgesj suggested it could be one of the North American Jays.

The big problem here is that there aren’t many features of the skull of the corvids that help distinguish them from each other, apart from the size and the bill shape. However, Magpies and Jackdaws are a bit too similar in these features. Other characters may be able to help, such as the shape of the bones of the palate (which I think favours the Magpie), but without a large sample size for comparison it is hard to tell what variation is due to species differences and what is due to individual differences.

Given that this specimen is from the King’s or Chelsea College collection, which contains material from around the World, we can’t even rule out species from other countries. All of this makes identification a bit too uncertain, so for now I will simply keep the identification to ‘corvid’ and make a note of the various species it is most likely to be. Better to be uncertain than to be wrong.

Thanks for your help!