The rookery at the top of Whippendell Hill is becoming more raucous by the day. A dozen or so nests have been built, but a bit of twig stealing is still going on, and walkers on the footpath below get told to hurry along by the noisy birds in the tree tops.It is unwise to linger too long, and one certainly should not look up with one’s mouth open for fear of bombardment. The white splashes on the path grow more numerous each day!
I love to hear the excited welcome that Ted, our young labrador, and I get when we take our early morning walk that way. Rooks are old friends of mine. When I was a child there was a huge rookery in elm trees at the farm where I grew up and they would always follow the tractors as we cultivated the fields. They would swoop down as soon as the first strip of soil was turned and then walk along rather sedately probing the ground for wireworms and leather jackets. I chased them off a newly sown field once, but our old tractor driver told me that they were doing a good job, eating the pests that would feed on the roots of the barley we had sown, so they were left in peace after that.
Rooks are roughly the same size as carrion crows, with the same black iridescent feathers, but adult rooks have no feathers around the base of their bill, giving their faces a grey scaly appearance. They lose the feathers in this area when they are about 9 months old.
A pair of carrion crows breed regularly in the garden and always seem to be about the place. They were no friends of ours at the farm, taking eggs or young chicks if they got the chance. They will eat almost anything – dead rabbits on the road or rubbish from the bins. They like to hang about with our sheep and occasoinaly sit on their backs and pinch a bit of wool for their nests. The carrions nest a little later than the rooks and each pair has its own territory, with a nest on its own patch. The noisy rooks seem to enjoy each others company, with some nests no more than a foot apart right in the tops of the trees. The old saying that if you see a carrion crow with its friends it is a rook is certainly true at this time of year, but in harsh winter weather all of the members of the crow family will form flocks where there is food to be had. I think I will wear a hat when I take Ted under the rookery next time! Wendy Bathurst