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Full Online Book HomeEssaysThe Rook Serviceable To Man.--prejudice Against It
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The Rook Serviceable To Man.--prejudice Against It Post by :andrewb Category :Essays Author :Thomas Garnett Date :April 2011 Read :1158

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The Rook Serviceable To Man.--prejudice Against It

A strong prejudice is felt by many persons against Rooks, on account of their destroying grain and potatoes, and so far is this prejudice carried, that I know persons who offer a reward for every Rook that is killed on their land; yet so mistaken do I deem them as to consider that no living creature is so serviceable to the farmer as the Rook, except his own live stock.

In the neighbourhood of my native place is a rookery belonging to William Vavasour Esq., of Weston in Wharfdale, in which it is estimated there are 10,000 Rooks, that 1 lb. of food a week is a very moderate allowance for each bird, and that nine-tenths of such food consists of worms, insects, and their larvae: for although they do considerable damage to the crops for a few weeks in seed-time and harvest, particularly in backward seasons, yet a very large proportion of their food, even at these times, consists of insects and worms, which (if we except a few acorns, walnuts, and potatoes in autumn) at all other times form the whole of their subsistence.

Here, then, if my data be correct, there is the enormous quantity of 468,000 lbs., or 209 tons of worms, insects, and their larvae destroyed by the birds of a single rookery, and to everyone who knows how very destructive to vegetation are the larvae of the tribes of insects (as well as worms) fed upon by Rooks, some slight idea may be formed of the devastation which Rooks are the means of preventing. I have understood that in Suffolk and in some of the southern counties, the larvae of the cockchafer are so exceedingly abundant that the crops of corn are almost destroyed by them, and that their ravages do not cease even when they have become perfect insects. Various plans have been proposed to put a stop to their ravages, but I have little doubt that their abundance is to be attributed to the scarcity of Rooks, as I have somewhere seen an account that these birds are not numerous in those counties (I have never been there), either from the trees being felled in which they nested, or from their having been destroyed by the prejudiced farmer. I am the more inclined to be of this opinion, because we have many Rooks in this neighbourhood where the cockchafer is not known as a destructive insect, and I know that insects of that class and their larvae are the most favourite food of the Rook, which may be seen in the twilight catching both cockchafers and the large blackbeetles which are flying at that time in the evening.

I will mention another instance of the utility of the Rook which occurred in this neighbourhood. Many years ago a flight of locusts visited Craven, and they were so numerous as to create considerable alarm among the farmers of the district. They were, however, soon relieved from their anxiety, for the Rooks flocked in from all quarters by thousands and tens of thousands, and devoured the locusts so greedily that they were all destroyed in a short time. Such, at least, is the account given, and I have heard it repeatedly mentioned as the reason why the late Lord Ribblesdale was so partial to Rooks. But I have no means of ascertaining how far this is true.

It was stated in the newspapers a year or two back that there was such an enormous quantity of caterpillars upon Skiddaw, that they devoured all the vegetation on the mountain, and people were apprehensive they would attack the crops in the enclosed lands; but the Rooks (which are fond of high ground in the summer) having discovered them, put a stop to their ravages in a very short time. (June 30th, 1832.)

These remarks are confirmed by a writer in the "Essex Herald" and by Mr. Waterton. The former says:--"An extensive experiment appears to have been made in some of the agricultural districts on the Continent, the result of which has been the opinion that farmers do wrong in destroying Rooks, Jays, Sparrows, and, indeed, birds in general on their farms, particularly where there are orchards."

That birds do mischief occasionally among ripe corn there can be no doubt; but the harm they do in autumn is amply compensated by the good they do in spring by the havoc they make among the insect tribes. The quantity of grubs destroyed by Rooks and of caterpillars and grubs by the various small birds, must be annually immense. Other tribes of birds which feed on the wing--as Swifts, Swallows, and Martins--destroy millions of winged insects which would otherwise infest the air and become insupportably troublesome. Even the Titmouse and the Bullfinch, usually supposed to be so mischievous in gardens, have actually been proved only to destroy those buds which contain a destructive insect. Ornithologists have of late determined these facts to be true, and parish officers would do well to consider them before they waste the public money in paying rewards to idle boys and girls for the heads of dead birds, which only encourages children and other idle persons in the mischievous employment of fowling instead of minding their work or their schooling. But to return to the experiment alluded to. On some very large farms in Devonshire the proprietors determined a few summers ago to try the result of offering a great reward for the heads of Rooks, but the issue proved destructive to the farms, for nearly the whole of the crops failed for three succeeding years, and they have since been forced to import Rooks and other birds wherewith to re-stock their farms.

Of late years the extensive destruction of the foliage and young fruit in orchards by a species of caterpillar has excited the attention of the naturalist, and it has been found to have arisen from the habit of destroying those small birds about orchards which if left unmolested would have destroyed or kept down those rapacious insects.


(The end)
Thomas Garnett's essay: The Rook Serviceable To Man.--Prejudice Against It

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