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Where can I go to see huge roosts of rooks and crows?

Sent in by Cathryn Ryall, West Midlands

Crow flocks gather nationwide during the winter months. Look near open farmland and grassland, especially pastures where invertebrate populations are highest. Generally, numbers will peak around Christmas time with the birds returning to their breeding areas around February. 

As mentioned in Crow Country, our Buckenham Marshes nature reserve in Norfolk is one site where tens of thousands of jackdaws and rooks can be seen coming into roost at dusk (it’s a wonderful site for wildfowl, too). It’s likely that there are other roosts close to you. To find out, why not contact your nearest RSPB local group?

Why flock?

Flocking and communal roosting have several benefits for birds, and crows (or ‘corvids’) form single- and multi-species flocks and roosts with other crows. One particular roost in Cornwall numbered 200 carrion crows, 2,500 rooks and 7-8,000 jackdaws!

Outside the breeding season, daytime flocks form from early afternoon. They gather around abundant food sources, such as freshly ploughed fields, and large numbers improve the chances of locating sources of food. More pairs of eyes mean safety in numbers, too: predators are more likely to be spotted and the flock can ‘mob’ them and drive them away.

It's a family affair

There are eight members of the crow family in the UK: carrion crow, rook, jackdaw, raven, hooded crow, chough, magpie and jay.

Crows are mostly resident and rarely move far from their breeding grounds, although weather conditions and food availability may force them to move around. In winter, jackdaws and rooks from northern and eastern Europe join our resident crows, especially in eastern parts of the UK.
After the breeding season, young crows fledge the nest at around a month old. Jackdaws are fed by their parents for a further month until they are left to their own devices, while young rooks and crows stay with the adults until the late summer. Carrion crows sometimes remain in family groups through the winter.

Who’s a clever bird?

Crows are considered perhaps the most intelligent family of birds and experiments have shown they are even capable of arbitrary thought. They can tell the difference between one, two and three, can recognise themselves, set bait for fish and even solve problems using basic tools. 

Crows are highly opportunistic and adaptable, and can live in a wide variety of habitats. The most common UK crow species have enjoyed a population increase of around 80-100 per cent in the past 25 years. So they regularly come into conflict with humans, who are perhaps their biggest predators.

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