The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 5 – a look at the rook.

Last week I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in ths series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the better known old-world corvids, the rook.

A rook in England, thanks to Adrian Pingstone for placing this fine photo in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Rook
Other names None
German Saatkraehe
French Corbeau freux
Russian Грач
Polish Gawron
Scientific Name Corvus frugilegus
Number of species in the genus 45
Number of subspecies in this species 2
Literal meaning of Scientific name Fruit-gathering crow
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Known and written about from old times, in England referred to in a legal enactment by Henry VIII, who spells them “rokes”.
Wingspan (cm) 96
Length bill to tail (cm) 46
Distribution Distributed in all Europe and much of China, with a narrow belt going throug Russia in the middle. The western variant, C. f. frugilegis stretches over most of the range even as far as parts of China, but shares part of the range with C.f. pastinator.  They tend to live south of the 60 degrees parallel, especially in Winter, where those of more northerly ranges can fly further south for the worst of the winter, returning early in the spring while it is still snowing. The species tend to avoid territories preferred by ravens, so they prefer firelds to forests. They have been introduced to New Zealand where they are regarded as an invasive pest.
Remarks Most vegetarian than other crows. Less likely to exhibit high degrees of intelligence in interacting with humans. Their high nests in large company are known as “rookeries” and they probably have more collective ouns in English referring to groups of rooks than many other species do, and these include: ‘building’, ‘parliament’, ‘clamour’ and ‘storytelling’. They do not have as broad a range of vocalisations as other Corvus genus members, although there is some variety, but their signature rough call is what gives rise to their common name in English. In turn, their name has been applied to the chess piece and to an ungainly human novice or “rooky”.
Migrations Only the more northerly populations are migratory and only for the worst of the winter. The painting by Savrasov “the rooks’ return” shows returned rooks on a snowy backdrop, so they only flee the coldest snaps, not the temperate winter in and of itself. They have successfully urbanised in many large cities such as Moscow or Warsaw.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable, other than a slight crest on some males, which are larger
Close relatives Other Corvus species may be closely related but hybridisation with rooks is rare.
Not close relatives thought to be close They remind one with their bald faces of coots, a water bird not at all closely related.
Cultural significance Although crows themselves have unpalatable flesh, the strictly vegetarian rook is more tasty, apparently – “rook pie” was a meal mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, however this is only palatable up to its maturity, and the season for shooting rooks for food is short. Already mentioned above, one of the finest paintings in my opinion in the world is “the rooks return” by Savrasov. In the main they have been regarded by humans as an agricultural pest, but despite this they remain quite a populous bird.
The Rooks Return, by Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, showing classic nesting behaviour and a return by rooks to a northerly location even before the thaw of the winter’s snow. Seen in Russia as a welcome harbinger of Spring on the way.



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