Rook Gibbets & Crow Funerals

I like Rooks.

I like the bare trees in early spring clotted with their nests and the sociable hard-caw that surrounds them, though I like their broad vocabulary of quieter growls and croaks too.  I like their purposeful cross-country twilight flights to ancient communal roosts (where I lived in Suffolk they followed a fragmented Roman road).

Here they are in nineteenth-century Winchelsea, their purple-glossed wings just one of the beautiful sights cruelly hidden from The Blind Girl.

Just over the Antiente Hille, in the twenty-first-century they are shot and their corpses displayed just as the tar-coated cadavers of criminals once were on nearby Gibbet Marsh, to Encourage The Others – in this case, not to consume seed.

I have long assumed that this primitive practice would have no effect on the Rooks – more would come to replace those killed – though it might give the humans a sense of control. The nice man who shoots them, along with Jackdaws, bears them no ill-will; it just has to be done.

But just recently my daughter directed me to a fascinating podcast on Corvid Thanatology by researcher Kayli Swift. She was looking at American Crows rather than Rooks but so much parallel work has indicated a high level of intelligence in the latter species that I fell there is likely to to be a connection.

Swift observed that Crows pay particular attention to dead comrades, collecting objects to place beside them. Other Crows will gather to look. sometimes one will attempt to copulate with the dead bird, maybe trying to convince it that lie is worth living after all. There is much more; best you read her articles yourself.


What are crows thinking when they see death?

Or watch her TED talk:

Even better, listen to the podcast because Kayli’s account there of her education is very thought-provoking. Although completely absorbed by the natural world, she found nothing of interest in school, was diagnosed as having learning difficulties, medicated……went on to a brilliant academic career (join the dots).


2 Responses to “Rook Gibbets & Crow Funerals”

  1. John Carter Says:

    As a child I lived 200yards from a rookery and twice rescued young ones which had fallen or been pushed from the nest. The first one, which had a broken wing, soon died, but the other survived and learnt to fly. It roosted on the roof of our bungalow and would land on my shoulder when I went outside. I fed it on Weetabix. Eventually I took it to the field next to the rookery, put it down and walked away. After a few minutes it flew up to join the other rooks in the sky. I never saw it again, but it was a good feeling.

    • Hi John, We had a similarly tame Jackdaw for a while at Toot Rock. Somewhere there are photos of the children dressed in Hallowe’en costumes with the Jackdaw in suitably folkloristic attendance

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