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A parliament - or group - of rooks

The crow family, or corvids, are intelligent and adaptable birds, with strong feet and robust bills.

In this feature, we’re focusing on four of the black feathered members of the crow family that you’ll see around the Solent coastline: rooks; carrion crows; ravens; and jackdaws.

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Corvus frugilegus

The rook is a social bird which nests in colonies, known as rookeries. It can be distinguished other members of the crow family by its pale, dagger-shaped bill and its area of bare, grey-white skin at the base of its bill.

It has ‘baggy trousers’ of feathers around its legs and a steep forehead with a highly peaked crown. Some describe rooks as looking a bit more scruffy than other corvids, with loose, slightly oily-looking feathers.

Rooks are extremely noisy with a distinctive ‘caw-caw’ call which they often make pitching their body forwards.

It’s a little smaller than the carrion crow with a wingspan of around 90cm, compared with the carrion crow’s 1m wingspan.

Rook characteristics

It’s the only one of the crow family in this feature which is amber listed for conservation concern – the others are green listed.  Rook numbers dropped by around 20% between 1995 and 2020.

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Carrion crow

Corvus corone

There’s a misleading rule of thumb that if you see a medium sized crow in a large group, it’s likely to be a rook rather than a carrion crow, but this is far from always the case. While they’re not quite as sociable as rooks and are often to be seen on their own or in pairs, they are also often found in large groups.

Unlike the scruffier rook, the carrion crow is jet black all over with glossy plumage which sits neatly against its body, and a rounded tail.

Carrion crows are one of the cleverest of birds and are well known for their scavenging habits, often feeding on animal remains – hence their name.

Like rooks, carrion crows are very vocal with a distinctive hoarse cawing noise which it often makes three times.

Carrion crow characteristics
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Corvus corax

The raven is a huge crow – by far the largest passerine (perching bird) with a wingspan of up to 1.5m.

Ravens can be mistaken for carrion crows if it’s hard judge its relative size: look out for a stronger and heavier bill, a ruffle of throat feathers and a long, wedge-shaped tail.

The best give-away for raven ID is their exceptionally deep and gravelly call.

Raven characteristics
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Corvus monedula

Our smallest crow with a wingspan of around 70cm, you can tell jackdaws apart from other corvids, not only by their size, but by the silvery grey sheen to the back of its head, its short, stubby bill and its pale blueish-white eyes.

Jackdaws mate for life, often sitting next to each other as they preen. You can pick out mated pairs when flocks are in flight as they fly closer to each other than the rest of the jackdaws in the flock.

They are very social birds and their call is a cheery familiar ‘tchack’ sound – like its name.

Jackdaw characteristics
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For more information about identifying birds seen along the Solent, visit the Meet the Birds section of our website.

You can also read our Swifts, Swallows and Martins ID feature, or our Birds of Prey guide.