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School Watch

Rook

Rúcach (Irish name)

Corvus frugilegus (Latin name)

Sometimes known as the “Church parson” because he’s black, walks around with the dignified air of a clergyman and is commonly found in graveyards, the Rook is one of our commonest and easiest birds to see. Do you remember the verse from well known rhyme, “Cock Robin”
Who’ll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
With my little book,
I’ll be the parson.


The rook belongs to the crow family and has a distinctive black glossy plumage with a purple sheen. Rooks and jackdaws like to roost together, but prefer to build their nests in different sites: Jackdaws prefer holes in trees whereas rooks nest in colonies in tall trees called rookeries.

Human structures are seldom used. For rooks to leave a rookery was considered a bad omen for those who owned the land. It was generally believed that a famine would shortly follow. The old saying, “As the Crow Flies” refers to rooks, because of the way in which they fly in a straight line, especially to and from rookeries, which can be anything up to 25 miles away from daytime feeding areas. The term, “Crow’s Nest”, (the look out on the mast of sailing ships) originates from rook nests as they are built so high up in the trees and the term “Scarecrow” was developed to guard cereal crops from flocks of rooks and not a single crow.

Some country people believe that it is possible to forecast the weather for the remainder of the year by just looking at a rookery. If the nests are positioned close to the tops of the trees, then the summer will be warm and dry, but if the nests are positioned low amongst the branches then the summer is destined to be wet!

It may seem strange, but WInter rather than Summer is a time of plenty for Rooks. They feed mostly on soil invertebrates such as earthworms and leatherjackets and winter grain. In contrast, summer is often a difficult time. Grain is absent, since the crops will not have yet ripened and many soil invertebrates, like leatherjackets, have metamorphosed into craneflies (daddy-long-legs). And to make matters even worse, rooks undergo their annual moult in the summer and need a plentiful supply of food to grow a new set of feathers.

Rooks nest early in the year, laying four or five eggs. and the young hatch out in April. When they hatch, the male will feed the whole family for several days on his own, but about 6 days later, the female will also share in the task. Dominant rooks take the central locations in a rookery, while younger, less experienced pairs are forced to the margins.

“Rook Parliaments” have been reported on a number of occasions. This often involves 30 or 40 rooks forming a circle with two rooks inside. Generally these two rooks would fight each other, with the others becoming more and more excited as the fight progressed.

Farmers tolerate the rook with mixed feelings. On the one hand they gobble up all sorts of troublesome soil pests, but on the other hand they can be terrible pests themselves, digging up freshly planted potatoes and stealing grain.

So whether you love him or loath him, now is a good time to get out and see the “Church Parson”.

QUESTIONS:
1. What is the Irish name for the rook?
2. Why is the rook sometimes known as the “Church Parson”?
3. What is a rookery?
4. What is a crow’s nest?
5. What do rooks feed on in winter?
6. When do rooks moult?
7. What are craneflies?
8. At what time of year do rooks nest?
9. Why do farmers tolerate rooks?
10. What position in a rookery do dominant rooks occupy?
 

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