The woods near our house are well populated with crows. This fall may have been tough on squirrels, but the crows appear to be flourishing; the ones I see are mammoth, glossy beasts. They’ve been around all year but with the leaves gone and the sky so gray, the woods seem emptier lately and I notice them more.
When I see a crowd of them, I sometimes think about David Copperfield’s childhood home, The Rookery, which gets explained in the first chapter of the novel this way:
“In the name of Heaven,” said Miss Betsey, suddenly, “why Rookery?”
“Do you mean the house, ma’am?” asked my mother.
“Why Rookery?” said Miss Betsey. “Cookery would have been more to the purpose, if you had had any practical ideas of life, either of you.”
“The name was Mr. Copperfield’s choice,” returned my mothe. “When he bought the house, he liked to think there were rooks about it.”
The evening wind made such a disturbance just now, among some tall elm-trees at the bottom of the garden, that neither my mother nor Miss Betsey could forbear glancing that way. As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weather-beaten ragged old rooks’-nests burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea.
“Where are the birds?” asked Miss Betsey.
“The—-?” My mother had been thinking of something else.
“The rooks–what has become of them?” asked Miss Betsey.
“There have not been any since we have lived here,” said my mother. “We thought–Mr. Copperfield thought–it was quite a larger rookery; but the nests were very old ones, and the birds have deserted them a long while.”
“David Copperfield all over!” cried Miss Betsey. “David Copperfield from head to foot! Calls a house a rookery when there’s not a rook near it, and takes the birds on trust because he sees the nests!”
Rookeries are, of course, all over English novels and as a kid I somehow formed the impression that they were a man-made addition to the grounds of a home, like a super-gothic chicken coop. Looking it up this morning I see it’d be hard to cultivate crows for picturesque advantage:
Rooks and jackdaws like to roost together, but prefer to build their nests in different sites: Jackdaws prefer holes in trees whereas rooks nest in colonies in tall trees called rookeries.
Human structures are seldom used. For rooks to leave a rookery was considered a bad omen for those who owned the land.
That last bit adds to the doomed chord sounded in that opening passage in David Copperfield: Not only had the rooks abandoned the home, they took all the luck with them.