The Rookery by
Evenings at Home
Is that a rookery, papa?
Mr. S. It is. Do you hear what a
cawing the birds make?
F. Yes; and I see them hopping about
among the boughs. Pray, are not rooks the same with crows?
Mr. S. They are a species of crow.
But they differ from the carrion crow and raven, in not feeding upon
dead flesh, but upon corn and other seeds and grass, though, indeed,
they pick up beetles and other insects and worms. See what a number
of them have alighted on yonder ploughed field, almost blackening it
over. They are searching for grubs and worms. The men in the field do
not molest them, for they do a great deal of service by destroying
grubs, which, if suffered to grow to winged insects, would injure the
trees and plants.
F. Do all rooks live in
Mr. S. It is their nature to
associate together, and they build in numbers of the same, or
adjoining trees. They have no objection to the neighbourhood of man,
but readily take to a plantation of tall trees, though it be close to
a house; and this is commonly called a rookery. They will even fix
their habitations on trees in the midst of towns.
F. I think a rookery is a sort of
Mr. S. It is—a village in the
air, peopled with numerous inhabitants; and nothing can be more
amusing than to view them all in motion, flying to and fro, and
busied in their several occupations. The spring is their busiest
time. Early in the year they begin to repair their nests, or build
F. Do they all work together, or
every one for itself?
Mr. S. Each pair, after they have
coupled, builds its own nest; and, instead of helping, they are very
apt to steal the materials from one another. If both birds go out at
once in search of sticks, they often find at their return the work
all destroyed, and the materials carried off. However, I have met
with a story which shows that they are not without some sense of the
criminality of thieving. There was in a rookery a lazy pair of rooks,
who never went out to get sticks for themselves, but made a practice
of watching when their neighbours were abroad, and helping themselves
from their nests. They had served most of the community in this
manner, and by these means had just finished their own nest; when all
the other rooks, in a rage, fell upon them at once, pulled their nest
in pieces, beat them soundly, and drove them from their society.
F. But why do they live together, if
they do not help one another?
Mr. S. They probably receive pleasure
from the company of their own kind, as men and various other
creatures do. Then, though they do not assist one another in
building, they are mutually serviceable in many ways. If a large bird
of prey hovers about a rookery for the purpose of carrying away the
young ones, they all unite to drive him away. And when they are
feeding in a flock, several are placed as sentinels upon the trees
all round, to give the alarm if any danger approaches.
F. Do rooks always keep to the same
Mr. S. Yes; they are much attached to
them, and when the trees happen to be cut down, they seem greatly
distressed, and keep hovering about them as they are falling, and
will scarcely desert them when they lie on the ground.
F. I suppose they feel as we should
if our town was burned down, or overthrown by an earthquake.
Mr. S. No doubt. The societies of
animals greatly resemble those of men; and that of rooks is like
those of men in the savage state, such as the communities of the
North American Indians. It is a sort of league for mutual aid and
defence, but in which every one is left to do as he pleases, without
any obligation to employ himself for the whole body. Others unite in
a manner resembling more civilised societies of men. This is the case
with the heavers. They perform great public works by the united
efforts of the whole community—such as damming up streams and
constructing mounds for their habitations. As these are works of
great art and labour, some of them probably act under the direction
of others, and are compelled to work, whether they will or not. Many
curious stories are told to this purpose by those who have observed
them in their remotest haunts, where they exercise their full
F. But are they all true?
Mr. S. That is more than I can answer
for; yet what we certainly know of the economy of bees may justify us
in believing extraordinary things of the sagacity of animals. The
society of bees goes further than that of beavers, and in some
respects beyond most among men themselves. They not only inhabit a
common dwelling, and perform great works in common, but they lay up a
store of provision, which is the property of the whole community, and
is not used except at certain seasons and under certain regulations.
A bee-hive is a true image of a commonwealth, where no member acts
for himself alone, but for the whole body.
Evenings at Home.