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Remarkable Rooks

22 Jan 2015

A guest blog this week from Aberdeenshire Ranger David Brown, about one of our most fascinating birds...

The Rookery at Haddo

From autumn, rooks abandon their rookeries for winter roosts, where they mass each evening, together with their companions, the jackdaws.  By late February or early March, these winter roosts are in turn abandoned as the rooks return to their time-honoured spring nesting rookeries.

These rookeries become a scene of great activity from then on until June.  This time period seems to be the same for rooks whether they are living in Spain, Germany, Turkey or Aberdeenshire!  Aberdeenshire has more rooks than any other county in Britain and there is a reason for this; lots of low lying grassland which they can probe with their stout bills right up to the hilt.  (This is why they have a pale feather-free patch around their bills, so their face feathers don’t get clogged with mud.) 

The other thing rooks need is mature trees to nest in.  Grass and trees, now where springs to mind?  These are the ecological facts that guarantee the rook’s attachment to old landed estates.  Interestingly, open grassland dotted about with mature trees, is also favoured by human beings; such a landscape has been shown to be the most frequently preferred landscape by humans.  This is the landscape of the African savannah, where the first humans probably adapted to standing upright.  It could be said to be our natural habitat. The Parkland that nearly always adorns the land around country houses is a product of the Romantic ideal of a ‘natural’ looking landscape and Britain’s great contribution to landscape design – even the Italians copied our Parks!  It subconsciously copies the savannah’s grass and dotted trees as being the most pleasing to the human eye.

We share this preference with rooks, they like it too.  Over the centuries, rooks have become associated with this cherished landscape.  Rooks are pests to farmers who see them eating their sown seeds.  (Such a nuisance does not seem to be made up for by the rooks eating so many of the grubs and larvae that damage crops.)  Yet the owners of landed estates have always seemed to like them, ignoring the requests of tenant farmers to cull their rooks.  In folklore, rooks abandoning their rookery near a country house were an omen of the imminent demise of that family’s fortunes and perhaps helped ensure the stately oaks and beeches remained unfelled.

Haddo’s rookery is outwith the Country Park itself in a strip of woodland belonging to Haddo Estate.  It is south-west of The Pheasantry (not the trees on the bank at the end of the lawn in front of The Pheasantry) beyond the large close-cut area that has the old well in it.  A little off-shoot has appeared in the last few years in the tall Scots Pines right over the footpath that continues the tarmacked drive behind The Pheasantry.  Fortunately, most of their droppings land off the path so you can risk looking up from below and seeing their untidy nests right at the very tops of the trees.         

Blog by David Brown, Rook images by Emma Totney (top) David Brown (middle) Paula Mcraib (bottom)

If you want to see Haddo's rooks, as well aslots of other birds and wildlife then join us for Discover Wild Haddo on Saturday 24th at 10am. 

Winter X-Country

A quick reminder if you're visiting on Sunday 25th that we're hosting Haddo's leg of the Winter X-Country running series. The race will start at the Pheasantry and go through the park. Some paths and trails may be briefly closed off as the runners pass by, and please make especially sure to keep dogs (and tiny children!) under control during the day. 

You can find entry details for all the races (including juniors and seniors) on our events page.

Guest Blogs

If you'd like to write a blog about Haddo- its wildlife, history, or any topic Haddo related that interests you then get in touch. Blog posts are ideally around 500 words and can include pictures and photos as well. Email your ideas to haddo@visithaddo.com