A Somerset dialect name for the rook used to be ‘church parson’, obviously referring to its sombre plumage. An old group term for rooks was a ‘congregation’ so clearly the birds had ecclesiastical associations in some places.
— Recording the Rook, by Philip Radford
A particular colony of rooks found an ivy-covered tower in the fields of Berkshire hospitable and made it the site of several 1 nests. They built the nests on the floor of the tower, around the perimeter, wedged against the parapet.
Rook mates build nests cooperatively. This occurs frequently across species, though in some the male has an oddly unreflective manner of building, not seeming to notice when the material falls from his beak to the ground uselessly. I wonder what the female thinks of this.
These rooks lived hundreds of years ago.
This was when carts were pulled by oxen and hunters rode on horses and arrows were fletched with one feather from a cock and two from a hen. Travel then was even more tortuous for them. Those people. Along the paths they trudged, and through their fields or, more often, the fields of their superiors, always on the ground, stepping even on the feet of their own shadows.
On a certain damp evening in mid-March, when the air was thick and verdant, a caravan of people was passing through a nearby town, north of the tower, and the colony went to see what food they could get. They left as the sun was thick with orange. Only two, who were brothers, remained to occupy the rookery, tasked with watching the sky to ensure that the tower wasn’t overtaken by the jackdaws, Corvus monedula, who lived in a cluster of beech trees to the north.
The brothers perched on a merlon and observed what caught their eye. The jackdaws were returning home. The air was cool, and mating was late. The colony had a small cache of acorns, which formed a circle in the center of the tower, beneath the rough-hewn chair that stood there. When the sun could no longer be seen, the younger alighted from the parapet to the tower floor and strode toward the chair, wings tucked against him, strides long.
Perched on the seat, he broke into an acorn.
The elder brother listened. Head cocked, beak open. Left eye facing the sky, right facing the floor of the tower.
He took to the adjacent crenel. This was an awkward maneuver for them, the crenels being narrow. Sometimes the younger Rooks would alight from the merlon to the floor and from there flap up to the crenel, but eventually they all learned to drop down flapping and land on the base of the crenel without bumping their heads against its vertical plain.
The younger brother watched. Beak empty but smudged with acorn meat. The remainder of the acorn lying in crumbs around his toes.
1Or was it seven? Both are argued.