Rook & Jackdaw

Introduction to the pair:

The Rook (Rúcach) and the Jackdaw (Cág) are two very social species of crow. They spend a large share of their time in the company of members of their own species, as well as other crows. You will often see large ‘parliaments’ of rooks foraging or nesting beside equally large ‘clatterings’ of jackdaws.


Rook - Rúcach - Ydfran - Corvus frugilegus


How to identify the rook:

Although the rook shares many similarities with other crows, there are some distinct features that help to tell it apart. Rooks have paler faces and a slender beak that is usually a lighter colour than ravens or carrion crows. They have a steep forehead leading to a pointed crown. Also look for the 'baggy trousers' that set them apart from other crows.



A rook while foraging – note the slender beak and pale face that helps with their identification. Provided by knowledge gatherer Ben Porter.



Ecology, social dynamics and seasonality

The colonial nest sites of rooks are named ‘rookeries’, they are commonly found in the tops of trees in towns, villages, and the wider countryside. Anyone familiar with these nest sites will know of the raucous behaviour as the chattering tenants settle in for the night!


Like many other crows, the rook’s diet is considerably varied. They feed on soil-dwelling invertebrates, small vertebrates, carrion and many varieties of plant material, including crops. Rooks’ nests are built or repaired year after year in preparation for the breeding season from February-April. They use a variety of building materials such as sticks, twigs and roots, which are further reinforced by dry grasses, leaves and moss. The average life span of a rook ranges from 6-7 years. 1, 2, 3, 4.



Footage of a rookery. Provided by knowledge gatherer, Ben Porter.



Myths, legends and folklore surrounding the rook:

Where rooks appear in folklore, they are mostly portrayed as a bad omen, associated with death, or with trickery. The rook’s Latin name ‘Corvus frugilegus’, means ‘fruit-gathering raven’, coming from their tendency to feed on crops, fruit and other plant material. As a result, rooks are the most likely culprit that led to farmers’ widespread use of scarecrows. 5


Special note on Iveragh:

Ireland has a large population of rooks that is widespread across the landscape. Iveragh is no exception, with large flocks to be seen foraging alongside jackdaws in sheep and cattle-grazed pastures. If you are passing through Ballinskelligs Village or Chapeltown on Valentia Island on a winter evening, rookeries may well be holding parliament in the treetops surrounding the villages.

Special note on Pen Llŷn:

There are several ‘rookeries’ scattered around Pen Llŷn’s landscape that become filled with the noise of nesting birds from March onwards; their return signalling the coming of spring. Some particularly noteworthy sites to observe these include the mature ash and sycamore trees around Plas yn Rhiw, and a small area of woodland near Porth Or. They can be found right across the surrounding farmland of Pen Llŷn during the rest of the year, gathering together with other species to roost at dusk through the winter months.


Jackdaw - Cág - Jac-y-do - Corvus monedula


What does the name mean?

Owing to the Jackdaw’s (Cág) mischievous nature and alleged fondness for stealing coins and other trinkets, its Latin species name of ‘monedula’ derives from the stem ‘moneta’ meaning ‘money’. We will have more to say on the jackdaw’s exploits in the folklore section below!


How to identify the jackdaw:

Jackdaws are a little bigger than a magpie and smaller than a rook. They are very vocal, so you will often hear their high-pitched calls ringing around the countryside. The jackdaw’s body appears entirely black or as a dark shade of grey, while the back of their head and neck are a lighter silver/grey.


Ecology, social dynamics and seasonality:

Jackdaws are a generalist species, meaning they are capable of successfully exploiting a wide range of habitat types. As such, they can be found in towns, villages, woodlands and the wider agricultural and coastal landscapes of Ireland and Wales. They often nest on cliffs and in trees, abandoned houses, chimneys, and cliffs. Jackdaws make their nests from a variety of materials, including twigs, mud, dung, moss, feathers, wool and fur. Male and female jackdaws form a long-term pair bond in their first year and go on to breed in the subsequent year6. Their nest is built or repaired in time for the breeding season in mid-April. 7


They are also very social corvids. They spend a large portion of their time feeding and roosting together in parks, gardens, pastures, crop fields, and along the tideline of beaches. Jackdaws frequently forage alongside rooks and often build their nests near rookeries. As generalists, their diet includes fruits, seeds, invertebrates, carrion, scraps and eggs. 8, 9



Jackdaws roosting in woods. Provided by knowledge gatherer, Ben Porter.


Myths, legends and folklore surrounding the jackdaw:

In folklore, the jackdaw has been widely regarded as a foolish, vain and mischievous bird, often alleged to have had an inkling for thievery. This is well captured by R.H Barham’s ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’. This whimsical legend details the journey of a jackdaw from a cursed thief (for having stolen a Cardinal’s ring) to a saint. 10


The Ancient Greek saying of: “The swans will sing when the jackdaws are silent” suggests that a knowledgeable person will wait until the foolish people have stopped speaking before having their say. This demonstrates how the jackdaw was viewed as a foolish bird by some cultures.


Special note on Iveragh:

Jackdaws are extremely common in Iveragh with plenty to be found peering down chimneys, perched upon barns and foraging in pastures around the Bolus Loop Walk, the Reenroe Cliff Walk and Reenard.

Special note on Pen Llŷn:

The extensive areas of farmland and pastures on Pen Llŷn provide excellent habitat for this ubiquitous crow species. Jackdaws can be seen in large flocks through the winter months, forming communal roosts with rooks and carrion crows in towns such as Pwllheli and woods such as Plas yn Rhiw. Nesting areas are diverse, ranging from the cliff edges of Porth Meudwy, to tree holes in woods such as Plas Glyn-y-weddw, to the chimney pots in most towns and villages across the peninsula.



Jackdaws coming into their evening roost. Provided by knowledge gatherer, Ben Porter



References:

1. Corvus frugilegus (Rook) (iucnredlist.org)

2. Rook - BirdWatch Ireland

3. ADW: Corvus frugilegus: INFORMATION (animaldiversity.org)

4. bird-table-75-rook-species-focus.pdf (bto.org)

5. The rook: myths, history & identification - Saga

6. Jackdaw | The Wildlife Trusts

7. Corvus monedula (Eurasian Jackdaw) (iucnredlist.org)

8. Jackdaw Bird Facts | Corvus Monedula - The RSPB

9. Jackdaw - BirdWatch Ireland

10. The Jackaw of Rheims | Representative Poetry Online (utoronto.ca)


Further Reading:

1. The mystery of the rooks' evening procession (irishtimes.com)

2. Rooks are fascinating birds (irishexaminer.com)

3. Take On Nature: Ancient call of the raucous rook - The Irish News

4. The rook: myths, history & identification - Saga