06 Oct 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Rooks: The rogues of the skies

Wild About Wildlife: Rooks: The rogues of the skies

What makes a rook a rook? Rooks have paler faces and a slender beak that is usually a lighter colour than ravens or crows Picture: Pixabay

THE weather had been very unsettled but the wet and windy night gave way to a reasonable dry morning. Part of our ritual is to go and feed the horse. This belongs to an elderly man who is not as sprightly as he used to be. The horse is located in a field around five minute’s from our house so there is no issue in getting there.
We gave the horse its oats and hay and waited in the car to see if any birds would appear. After a few minutes nothing had shown up and at Harry's suggestion we moved a little down the road.
The rooks suddenly appeared and landed on electricity wires. Being wary keeps a rook alive and they watched us for a while, before one got brave and landed near the horse. Soon the rest followed and they started to eat some of the scattered oats.
A pair of jackdaws followed and they carefully approached the feeding horse and even walked between its legs. In the nearby willow tree we could see and hear a small flock of chaffinches. They waited till the big birds had finished before hopping down for a meal.
Suddenly something spooked the rooks and they all took flight. A few minutes later they were back but it was time for us to head home. I love these short interactive moments with nature and it fits in nicely to a busy work life and family.
We headed back by our local rookery to see if there was any interesting activity. We drove in the narrow gate and turned in the farm yard so that we were facing the rookery. The rookery has been slowly getting busier as the main nesting season approaches.
There were several rooks flying around and after a few minutes of calling they landed on the top branches. As we watched they fanned out their tails and bowed back and forth. This is rook display at its best and of course there was many loud calls as part of the spring ritual.
During the week I was driving along the main Limerick to Tipperary road and making a mental note of any rookery. I spotted a tree with a well-built nest and the surprising thing was that it was only in a tree a few meters tall. In the nearby field there was a line of tall ash trees that would have been far safer to build the nest in.
I have come across this unusual behaviour before in a rookery located a few miles outside Tipperary town. There were magnificent beech trees dozens of meters tall but the rooks were crammed into a few small hawthorn trees. I could stand beside the trees and see into the lowest nests and the branches were at breaking point form the weight of the rooks and their nests.
I had always associated rooks with the tallest trees and this gave them protection from ground predators but not from squirrels. These nimble creatures will eat the eggs of rooks and I have known rookeries to be abandoned due to predation by squirrels.
When I got home I checked out the rookery in my garden. Last year after 20 years of planning and planting trees they nested for the first time. I was delighted with my noisy neighbours even when they kicked of their morning chorus as 5am.
These rooks has their own initial problems in the guise of hooded crows. They would try and work in pairs to get at the eggs. But while communal living during the spring can test the patience of rooks, living close to your neighbours has its advantages.
The rooks worked together and had the numbers to see off the hooded crows.
The main nest building season is still a few weeks away and most of the work will be done by March 17 or after St Patrick’s Day.

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