Rooks, service stations, and motorways.

by ollie on March 16, 2012

Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

Today I have had a long car journey, and spent most of it driving on motorways. As the morning progressed and we left the M5 to join the M4 I began to see a pattern emerging. Due to needing to make a lot of toilet stops for our daughter Sky, I noticed that the first two service stations we stopped at had a Rookery in the trees nearby.

Rookery is the term used for a colony of breeding animals, and in this case they were inhabited by Rooks, members of the crow family. High up in the trees there were a number of large nests made up of twigs, very easy to see as the trees are still bare. There were obviously many Rooks in the area, and I began to watch one that was perched high up on a street light. It flew over to a bin, landed on top of it and peered over the edge to look inside. It pulled out a carrier bag of rubbish and eventually found what it was looking for, a discarded sandwich wrapper. So it seems that the food we leave behind is probably one of the attractions of nesting near a service station, and the fields that motorways cut through will also provide a source of food.

So we continued on our journey and I noticed that there was a colony of nesting Rooks at every service station that we passed, but also spotted many right next to the motorway a good distance from any service station. This got me thinking, is there some other reason they may nest so close to the motorway? At the service station they had a reliable source of food from our wasted scraps, but what benefit was there to nest so close to the motorway at the areas in between? It hardly seems a pleasant place to make your home, its very noisy, and the air pollution would be another negative factor, however I saw these so often along the M4 that I began to wonder what the attraction was of rearing your young in such a location. Cars are generally not allowed to stop on the motorway, so it seems unlikely that there would be many food scraps left behind by people, so why are they there? Is it people throwing food out of their car windows? I know that the crow family are quite happy to feed on carrion, so maybe its the regular amount of roadkill available?

Anyway, as we got closer to the M25 it seemed that there were less Rookeries, maybe partly due to there being less tall trees by the roadside that would provide suitable nesting habitat. Had I just passed through an area that happened to have a high population of Rooks, or is there more to it then that?

So while I ponder on this, I invite you to pay attention and see if you notice a similar pattern when you are driving along the motorway, and please share your observations and any thoughts on the subject and maybe together we can find an answer to this question. Just remember to pay more attention to driving safely then counting the number of Rookeries that you pass.



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