A Clamour of Rooks
There’s a black mass happening outside our van.
A circle of attendees gathers in front of the bonnet, all adorned in the darkest blacks and the deepest midnight blues. This isn’t a solemn affair though. It’s raucous, a turning circle of noise and movement with capes flapping and indistinguishable chants floating through the air.
Something bangs loudly in the farmyard next door and the ritual gathering is abruptly disrupted. They take to the air, shrieking and spiralling chaotically; like dust shaken from a rug. Floating upwards they make for the safety of the trees at the far side of the campsite.
This is where they gather. Where they raise their young. A place to chatter amongst themselves and discuss the turning of the days and changes in air. They compare stick suitability and nest construction techniques.
Those trees are where the black mass usually congregates.
That is where the rooks live.
I love a good rook. I’d argue that they are one of my favourites from the corvid family due purely to their charismatic personalities. They babble and bicker and are followed by a constant clamour and they have mastered that inquisitive head tilt; the one we associate with cognition and intelligence - “just hold on a sec, I’ve totally got this, oh I see, it goes like that”
Living in a mostly rural setting surrounded by farmers fields rooks are my soundtrack to those long heady summer days, the bitter winds of winter, and those encouraging spring days when the sun is just beginning to warm the earth. If I can hear the rooks, then I am happy. I’ve often laid under the skylight in the van and been comforted to see the oil black shaped of them against bright blue skies, as they bring twigs back to their nests.
They are more social than their crow friends; crows are typically solitary and are usually seen skulking around on their own. Whereas the rook is a much more sociable creature, and they gaggle together in farmers fields, or huddle together lined along fences setting the world to rights. They are often accompanied by jackdaws; the smaller corvid with his jarring blue eyes tagging along with his bigger buddies.
At first it can be hard to tell the difference between rooks and crows; aside from the fact they have very different social lives, they are both roughly the same size, and almost jet black. Quite the conundrum to the untrained eye. But there is one distinguishing feature that is a dead give-away as to whether you are watching a rook or a crow. The beak.
A rook’s beak is big and rugged, the grey colour is striking against the uniform black of the bird’s plumage. It is completely unlike that of the crow which is much darker in colour and blends in more with the mix of blacks that make up the body. That big, stand out, rook’s beak is another addition to its character. They remind me of those big, rubbery false witches noses you get in cheap Halloween fancy dress kits.
Speaking of witches and all things mysterious, rooks have often been used by rural folk to divine the weather. I can remember various different family members passing comment on the rooks and where they had built their nests that year, in fact I still hear it talked about in the pub today. Perhaps not so much relied on now as it used to be, but a still mentioned in passing comments over a pint.
“Those rooks are building their nests high this year, looks like we’re in for a good summer.” That was the theory, if the rooks built their nests high then the summer was going to be a goodun, whereas if they packed the twigs in the lower branches then things didn’t look so good, and a bad summer was to come.
I remember hearing someone talk about how high and far the rooks were flying as well. If rooks stayed close to their nest sites, perhaps perching nearby, then wet weather was on its way, whereas if they flew high and far then the good stuff was coming. I honestly don’t know how much truth is in these sayings, there must be something in them if they are known and used by so many. Despite being aware of these little sayings and nuances, I’ve never actually remembered to pay attention to the weather in relation to where the rooks are. Must pay more attention.
Superstition is also put in rookerys on specific bits of land, because although they can be classed as a pest species, it is said that if a rookery suddenly abandons the land in which it is on, then a death can be expected. So, I guess no one really wants their black mass to leave.
Clearly, I need to pay more attention to the black mass that gather in front of a van. Perhaps they are trying to tell me something. Maybe they want to talk about the weather, or perhaps they know some secrets that I don’t. That might well be the reason that they gather at the foot of the trees, just in front of the van, there are impending weather fronts or bad omens that need to be discussed and planned for.
Whatever reason they are there, whatever ritual they are performing, I will always be pleased to see them. Their constant chattering, and riotous squawking will always be my farmland soundtrack. Whatever the weather I will always smile at their oil black plumage, iridescent in the light like oil spilling out into water.