This morning when I walked up to the woods there was a gang waiting close to the entrance – about half a dozen, they were all in black, shouting loudly, calling to each other, generally messing about and putting others off coming nearby.
Fortunately they were also about 50 feet above me – rooks really do seem like the hoodlums of the bird world. Actually, this is probably deeply unfair to the rook (and to hoodlums). They are very sociable birds and are almost always seen in flocks, particularly noticeable at dawn or dusk during the winter, when they will gather together to communicate the best feeding sites or to find their spot to roost for the night. Each morning during the darker months, I am dimly aware of the insistent cawing of hundreds of birds above our house, and will look out of the window to see them swooping and flying, crossing the field from the woods nearby, to gather wing-to-wing on the pylon and wires a short distance away. There’s a perfect view of this from the dining room window, so breakfasts in winter are often spent marvelling at how noisy these birds are, and wondering how many can squeeze onto an wire, until the whole structure takes on the look of a magnet which has been dipped into iron filings. A few minutes pass and they are off – they’ve discussed, loudly, the best place to locate the day’s food and it’s time to go off and find it. They will gather again at dusk for some more swooping and chattering, but by then I will probably be busy in the kitchen or on my way home from work and it will happen unnoticed by me. The dawn rooks are the ones I see most often and I like them. They are a reliable, daily reminder of nature during the darkest months, when nature is sometimes a little harder to find.
My view of rooks, crows and other similar birds was transformed recently when I read the book ‘Corvus’ by Esther Woolfson. The writer lives in Aberdeen and has inadvertently become the owner/mother/foster carer? (it’s hard to know what to call her!) to a series of wild birds, including a rook, a magpie and several doves. Her tales of acquiring and looking after these birds is really absorbing; having them in her home gives her the opportunity to observe the most instinctive and distinctive of their behaviours and she details their habits, history and physiology with fascination and love. Read it, and you will never look at crows by the side of the road the same way again.
Once I had run the gauntlet of the local gang, this morning’s walk in the woods was a pleasant one, with plenty of birdsong although no woodpeckers, and I indulged once again in my new favourite activity – squirrel spotting. There’s a quiet little corner of the woods where I can stand quietly and wait for a little scuffle in the canopy, or my eyes will be drawn to a twitching branch. Today I wasn’t disappointed – a small red appeared after a minute or two, and I watched him scamper through the treetops for several minutes. The rooks were still hanging about overhead but he wasn’t bothered – unfazed by the gang of feathered teens, he zipped down a tree trunk and into the undergrowth, where I lost him for now.