rook



rook defined in 1930 year

rook - Rook;
rook - Black with purple and violet reflections; base of the beak, nostrils, and region round the beak bare of feathers, and covered with a white scurf; iris greyish white. Length, eighteen inches.

The rook is common throughout the British Islands, and is our best-known large land bird, being everywhere the most abundant species, as well as the most conspicuous, owing to his great size, blackness, gregariousness, and habits of perching and nesting on the tops of trees, and of feeding on open grass spaces, where it is visible at a long distance. Without being a favourite of either the gamekeeper or the farmer, he is, in a measure, a protected species, the rookery being looked on as a pleasant and almost indispensable appanage of the country-house. It was not always so in former times the rook was regarded as a highly injurious bird, and in the reign of Henry VIII. an Act of Parliament was passed to ensure its destruction. But this is ancient history. The existing sentiment, which is so favourable to the bird, probably had its origin centuries back in time, and the rook has everywhere come to regard the trees that are near a human habitation as the safest to build on. It is surprising to find how fearless of man he is in this respect, while retaining a suspicious habit towards him when at a distance from home. I recall one rookery on a clump of fir-trees so close to a large house that, from the top windows, one can look down on the nests and count the eggs in many of them; yet for miles round the area is a well-wooded park, where the birds might easily have found scores of sites as well or better suited to their requirements.

The birds usually return to the rookery in February, and in March, or even earlier if the weather should prove mild, they begin to repair the old nests and build new ones. The nests are placed on the topmost branches of the tree - elm, oak, birch, or fir; but an elm-tree is generally made choice of. The tree to suit the rook must be tall - if possible, the tallest tree in the place - for it is the instinct of the bird not only to have his house far out of reach of all possible terrestrial enemies, but so placed that a wide and uninterrupted view of earth and sky may be obtained from it. As things now are his winged enemies do him little hurt, but it was not always so. In the next place, the branches must afford a suitable foundation to build on: they must be strong, and forked, so as to hold the fabric securely during high winds and sudden violent storms; furthermore, there must be a clear space above or at the side, to enable the bird to approach and leave it without striking against the surrounding boughs. It is a well-known fact that rooks will desert a rookery when the trees are decaying, even when, to a human eye, they appear eound. The most probable explanation which has yet been offered of this fact is, that a considerable amount of pliancy in the branches is necessary for the safety of the nest; for if the branches do not yield and sway to the force of the wind, the nest is in danger of being blown bodily out of its place: in the decaying tree the upper branches become too stiff, from the insufficient supply of sap.

The building and repairing time is one of great and incessant excitement in the rookery; and it is curious to note that birds of such a social disposition, and able to live together in concord at all other times, are at this period extremely contentious. As a rule, when one bird is abroad foraging for sticks, his mate remains on guard at the nest. Among these watchers and the birds that are leaving and arriving there is much loud cawing, which sounds like ' language,' in the slang sense of the word; and it might appear that they were all at strife, and each one fighting for himself. But it may be observed that a majority of the birds respect each other's rights, and never come into collision, and that there are others, in most cases a very few, who depart from these traditions, and are, like freebooters, always on the watch to plunder sticks from their neighbours' nests, instead of going afield to gather them. The presence of these objectionable members of the community may account for some of the curious episodes in the life of the rookery - as, for instance, the fact that all the birds will sometimes combine to persecute one pair, and demolish their nest again and again as fast as it is made.

The nest, when completed, is a large structure, two feet or more in diameter, made of sticks, and lined with dry grass. The eggs are four to six in number, and are bluish green, spotted and blotched with greyish purple and dull brown.

During incubation the male assiduously feeds his sitting mate, and occasionally changes places with her; and after the young are out of the shells both parents are engaged incessantly in collecting food for them. From early morning until dark they may be seen flying to and from the rookery, on each return journey carrying a cluster of worms and grubs in the mouth.

When the young are fully fledged they are seen perching awkwardly on the branches near the nest, occasionally malting short, tentative flights, and apparently anxious to go forth into that wide green world spread out beneath their cradle and watch-tower. They are, happily, ignorant of the doom that awaits them; for the time is now near when the blood-tax must be levied on the community - the price which is paid for protection; and, the young only being eatable, the slaughter must fall on them. As a rule, a few of the young escape death, as, when the shooting begins, and the old birds rise in haste to scatter in all directions, a few of the most advanced young birds that are already strong on the wing follow their parents to a place of safety.

After the breeding season, which is usually over at the beginning of June, the rookery is forsaken; in some cases the birds disappear, and do not return until the next spring; more often they pay an occasional visit to the rookery, and some rookeries are visited almost daily by the birds. But for the rest of the year their roosting-place is elsewhere, often at a considerable distance. In districts where rooks are abundant there is generally one great roosting-place, where the communities inhabiting the country for many miles around are accustomed to congregate at the end of each day. As the evening draws near the birds begin to arrive from two, or three, or more directions, in detachments or long, loose trains, flying steadily, at an equal height above the ground. Where they settle the tree-tops are black with their numbers; and as fresh contingents pour in the noise of the cawing grows louder and more continuous, until it is in volume like the sound of a surging sea. At intervals large numbers of birds rise up, to hang like a black cloud above the trees for some minutes, but as the evening darkens they all finally settle down for the night; still, in so vast an assemblage there are always many waking individuals, and a noise of subdued cawing may be heard throughout the hours of darkness. With the returning light there is a renewal of the loud noise and excitement, as the birds rise up and wheel about in the air before setting out on their journey to their distant feeding-grounds.

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