The Rookery by Evenings at Home

Letter I.

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 rookeries?

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 town itself.

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 new ones.

Crow.

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 trees?

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 sagacity.

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.

A Heronry.