Rooks busy building and foraging as they home in on the Borders

After the vernal equinox, then the clock change heralding British Summer Time and with the blessing of Easter, we should feel winter is behind us.

Sunday, 10th April 2016, 3:37 pm
Rookery at Sunnyhill woods.

Certainly, days of fuller sun matching the golden daffodils along roadside verges and woody banks of illuminated primroses splashed within a tapestry of shadow add new life to the countryside.

Adding a real zest to the week was the clamour of rooks at their rookery in the woods.

It’s a noise one could perhaps get used to, a non-threatening deafening din (but not too close!) of incessant cawing – a soundscape of business and sociability associated with the countryside and nearby human settlement.

Perchance, it may be interpreted as a portent in country lore of a local calamity when a change in volume or indeed a silence occurs when the birds vacate the site, only to resettle in the future when they deem right.

The evening I was there, nothing would have disturbed them – hell-bent on establishing their nests high overhead- about 30 in all, even though I was talking with a local resident dog walker beneath.

Their noise, activity and gathering well documented and described collectively as a “building, parliament, clamour or storytelling” – so apt.

The nests can best be described as large witches’ brooms dotted atop the canopy.

Numerous twigs taken from the trees had fallen accidently to litter the road; their loss did little to diminish the energy of the builders and only to confuse the scents for the two dogs sniffing beneath.

Rooks ascribed with that Latin name of Frugilegus, meaning “food gathering”, denotes their concerted association with an almost manic relationship to eating; seen foraging in their flocks across agricultural land for beetles, wireworms, caterpillars, insects and other pests.

But we must not forget their ability to disturb newly-planted seed beds and pull up spring wheat and other crops to satisfy their omnivorous diet. Their value or otherwise to the farmer can still strongly be debated. They even have a food pouch to fly back with their spoils!

Straining one’s neck upwards to the mayhem, bustle and tree-top squabble, it was possible to pick out their dark – almost sinister – brooding wedge shapes among the branches when they settled between bouts of soaring, diving and swooping overhead.

They’ve a functional appearance – ragtag to say the least, as becomes a bird accustomed to roaming miles and foraging in all weathers.

It starts with that long, dark pointy bill with a conspicuous white bare patch at its base for probing deep into the ground, then “the flat forehead, peaked crown and short nape, flattened breast and ample belly with ruffled drooping feathers”, not forgetting the ragged thigh feathers likened to baggy breeches.

But nature did bequeath rooks with a good set of wings, that strong voice to be heard and a sociability where sticking together has ensured their survival – classed as an abundant resident breeder in the current Borders Bird Report.