The Revered, Reviled Crow Clan by Howard Youth

I read an excellent article about corvids from their habitat to myths and legends about them in the May/June 2001 issue of Zoogoer. I think it is worth the read. Here is an excerpt:

For centuries, a dark specter haunted the bloody battlefields of Europe. Waiting to feast on the dead, common ravens lined up at bloody clashes between invaders and invaded, tribes and kingdoms. War-weary observers could not ignore the jet-black scavengers, with their four-foot-wide wingspreads and cross-shaped flight profiles. Ravens, not surprisingly, were branded harbingers of bad luck, or death.

Away from the carnage, common ravens (Corvus corax) also coasted into folklore, legend, and language, strongly hinting that these creatures and their 100-plus brethren in the family Corvidae are not your average birds. Two ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), rode the broad shoulders of the Norse god Odin. In Inuit legend, the raven became creator and trickster. In the Bible, Noah sent not only a dove but also a raven to seek land, as did many ancient mariners. Tame ravens still stroll within the Tower of London’s walls, where for centuries they’ve been sequestered as guardians against invasion.

One reason why ravens, crows, jackdaws, rooks, magpies, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, and jays stand out is that they have above-average brains—proportionately, they possess the largest cerebral hemispheres of the feathered set. Plucky, crafty, curious, social, vocal, and adaptable, corvids, as family members are known, are among our most familiar yet enigmatic neighbors. On all continents save Antarctica, they flourish in backyards and wilderness, although more than 20 species barely hang on within shrinking habitats. Ethiopia’s thick-billed raven (Corvus crassirostris), bigger than a red-tailed hawk, is the world’s largest songbird, while the dun-colored Hume’s ground-jay (Pseudopodoces humilis) of the Tibetan plains is the smallest family member. In between lies a broad spectrum of glossy, splashy, and plume-tailed characters.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Rooks, Easter Lore and More

Like many in the corvid family Rooks are attached to many legends, myths, lore and superstitions. In Shropshire, it was believed that rooks never carried sticks to their nests on Sundays or Ascension Day, but simply sat quietly on trees and did not work. It was also believed to be futile to wear new clothes on Easter because the rooks would fly above and poop on them.

Quite the opposite was said to be true as well. Some believed if you were hit by bird poop it was because you did not wear new or nice enough clothes on Easter. It was the Rook that was believed to make the decision if your Easter attire was nice enough. And it was the Rook who would carry out the punishment as well. It was a dirty job but somebody had to keep those English people well dressed on Easter.

Rooks deserting a rookery were (and in some places still are) also thought to be an indication of a death coming. They were also looked to for predicting weather conditions for many. Such was the case in Devon, England where it was assumed that should the Rooks stay in the vicinity of their nests in the middle of the day, or return to the rookery early, then rain would follow, but if they flew far away, then fine weather would follow instead. And in Yorkshire, the saying went that if the rooks congreated on dead branches of trees, rain wuold come before nightfall, but if they perched on live branches it would be fine and dry. ((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.))

The rook is a predatory bird, cunning and intelligent, it will do most anything to survive. This is true for most corvids. But because of its sneaky nature it has gotten a reputation. The root of its name “rook” means ‘to rook’ or cheat someone. The distrust for rooks has long since held true in many places. In 19th century London a criminal ladened slums in the East End were referred to as a ‘rookery’. This was indicative of the rook’s sneaky nature but also a comment on the way they build their nests very close together—crowding in—similar to the slums. The name Rook is descendant of the Latin word frugilegus which means acquisitive. Fitting for the bird as Rooks often like to take objects including twigs and other nesting materials from other nests. ((Tate, Peter (2008). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.))

Corvus frugilegus (The Rook)


Communique

Originally uploaded by Mark Cummins

Another excellent photograph found on flickr. This one is by Mark Cummins. If you click on the photograph it will take you to the URL where it is originally posted.

I am not 100% certain what particular bird this is in the corvidae family. However, I think it might be a rook but I am reluctant to say this for certain with authority because I am not so familiar with rooks to recognize off the top of my head. It looks like a rook and it looks like it the same bird I previously posted by the same photographer and it was a rook. So, I imagine it is either the same bird or a similar one. =)

This is the Corvus frugilegus which means “food-gathering” in Latin. They are more commonly referred to as the Rook. I have not had the great pleasure of seeing this bird in person but I am very excited to learn about it. It looks like a harsher, thinner crow. It appears, to me, to have had a hard-knock-life. I like how it wears its character, much like I relish the quirks in people; a wrinkle earned through years of laughter and tears, an innocent freckle just above the wrist, the shy happiness in a crooked smile, the confident swing of a left-leaning gait.

From what I’ve learned about the Rook, you can differentiate it from similar corvids by looking for the “bare gray-white skin around the base of the adult’s bill in front of the eyes or the feathering around the legs; it looks shaggier and laxer than the congeneric Carrion Crow.” ((Wikipedia))

It seems it is found all over Europe and east of Europe. I read that it is found in Great Britain quite frequently.

Where Rooks Live...
Normal Range of Habitat for the Rook (Where Rooks Live...)

Much like all corvids, it is a survivor. It will eat just about anything depending on where it lives. It prefers earthworms and insect larvae but will eat cereal grain, fruit, insects, crustaceans, small animals, acorns, bird eggs, and will pilfer through the trash for food scraps in urban areas. ((Wikipedia))

The Rook nests together in a colony. This is commonly referred to as colonial nesting which means nesting with many other birds in a safe place and living commune-style. The Rooks learn from one another and find food together. They protect one another but they are still predatory birds, so they can be found stealing from another from time to time. They prefer to nest way up high in trees. They typically have 3-5 eggs which are incubated for 16-18 days and the fledglings are cared for by their parents and other rooks for about a month.

Once fully fledged, they get together with other single rooks and sometimes even jackdaws and fly around, presumably deciding who they will mate with in the future. Or perhaps just enjoying the free, young, single life…flying around without a care.

You can hear a rook here.
It sounds much like most crows but maybe a little throatier which matches how they look, for me anyways. =) I like their throaty “caw”.

Rooks are interesting birds. And so they are written about…people speculate about their abilities and even conjure up powers for these intelligent birds. I found the following on Wikipedia… it is a direct copy and paste but interesting.

Like many other members of the Corvidae family, the Rook features prominently in folklore. Traditionally, Rooks are said to be able to forecast weather and to sense the approach of death. If a rookery — the colonial nesting area of rooks — were abandoned, it was said to bring bad fortune for the family that owned the land. Another folk-tale holds that rooks are responsible for escorting the souls of the virtuous dead to heaven. William Butler Yeats may be making reference to the latter tale in his poem The Cold Heaven.

In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series, Abel reveals that the parliament would surround a single rook, with that one telling a story. If the story was not liked, the parliament would attack and kill the speaker.

In Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, rooks make an appearance in Mattimeo. Rooks, along with magpies and other similar birds make up the army of General Ironbeak, one of the villains in the book.

In Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, rooks are seen as agents of the Dark and the sign-seeker, Will Stanton is warned never to fully trust one.

In Phillip Pullman’s book Northern Lights Lyra Belacqua and Roger Parslow catch and heal an injured rook on the college rooftop.

In Stephen King’s Dark Tower entry Wizard and Glass, one of the characters, Cuthbert Allgood, carries a rook’s skull tied around his neck, claiming it as a good luck charm.

I am now an official fan of the Rook. I may always have been but I simply did not know it.

Do YOU have a Rook story to share with me? I would love to hear one (or many!) If so, e-mail me below.

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