May 2012 - Rooks

Rookery - taken by Lin 20th March 2012

I visited the vicarage recently and was met by a crescendo of noise (Kaahs) from the rooks as they prepared for their breeding season - in my opinion, not a particularly calming sound. I have to remind myself that rooks are only doing what comes naturally and the noise isn't to irritate human beings. Collective nouns for rooks include parliament, clamour, story-telling and building, the first two certainly being associated with noise! 

The rook is a member of the crow family including carrion crows, magpies, jays, jackdaws, ravens and choughs, among others.  The rook is similar to the carrion crow but can be distinguished  from it by its 'untidy' appearance - the rook has undeniably baggy trousers! In addition, it has bare grey-white skin around its beak. Rooks also differ from other crows in their  nesting habits i.e. they nest communally in rookeries. Nests are built high in trees close to other nests, made primarily of twigs bound together by moss, leaves, grass, wool, hair and earth. Previous years' nests are refurbished and reused, and as rooks are adept thieves, many twigs are stolen from nearby nests in the process. The number of eggs within a clutch is usually between 3 to 5 and incubation may be up to 3 weeks. Both parents help in rearing the young. In autumn the young birds collect into flocks, often with jackdaws. Adult birds can be seen participating in spectacular aerial displays in autumn gales.

Rook - taken by Lin January 2012

Rooks are often seen on the ground foraging for earthworms and insect larvae, dug out of the ground with their strong bills. Their diet is, however, omnivorous, most likely accounting  for their success and they will take grain, fruit, small mammals, fledglings and bird eggs, as well as carrion. They will also take human food scraps in urban areas or waste tips given the opportunity.

All the crow family has been reported as having high intelligence among the bird world. Captive rooks have been shown to solve problems using bits of twigs and wire and can even deliberately fashion a hook from the wire to obtain food. There is a fascinating BBC News report by Rebecca Morelle, the BBC Science reporter, entitled 'rooks reveal remarkable tool use'   (BBC News 26th May 2009). This also shows how a rook adds stones to a tube of water to raise the level hence enabling the bird to gain access to a worm. 

lingibson@bawburghvillage.co.uk 

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