Eesti Elu
TÄNAVALT (From the street). Rook! and Hakk!
Eestlased Eestis 29 Apr 2011  Eesti Elu
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Such high-rise gatherings cannot go unnoticed in April, due to the still leafless trees and noise made by its participants. This is a rookery or colony of rook nests. Rooks (künnivaresed) are members of the crow family, who live across Europe and Asia and have a soft spot for churchyards (kirikaiad) and graveyards (surnuaiad / kalmistud). Here they are announcing the culmination of spring nesting above Viru-Nigula's Püha Nikolause kirik. We had witnessed an even larger colony the previous day above Jõhvi's Mihkli kirik. But nowhere else on our trip...

The word rookery is interesting in that it has gone on to mean a breeding ground or communal living area of other species of gregarious (seltskondlikud) birds or mammals as well, incl. penguins and seals; even some turtles breed in rookeries. Charles Dickens' David Copperfield was born in Blunderstone Rookery – here meaning an overcrowded slum tenement building or area of housing.

Although some may find them annoying, crows (vares, pl. varesed) are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals. Research has found some crow species capable not only of tool use, but tool construction. The Jackdaw (hakk), a small member of the Eurasian crow family, along with its cousin the European Magpie (harakas) have been found to have a neostriatum (subcortical part of the forebrain) approximately the same relative size as is found in chimpanzees and humans.

It may be an architectural or religious preference, but the grey-headed hakk (similar to the Grackle in North America) is also famous for gathering around and nesting in church steeples. If you want to see and hear hakid call their distinctive name "Hakk, hakk!" go to Tartu, where they abound.

The most common crow you'll see in Eesti is not all severe black, but in fact grey-chested (or vested) with a black jacket and hood: the hallvares (Hooded Crow). Once again, you'll only see it in Europe. While I used to think the legendary harakas was a Euro-bird, it turns out the Black-billed Magpie inhabits the western half of North America. And the big daddy of the family, the ronk or kaaren (Raven) is found around the entire Northern hemisphere. In many indigenous cultures, including those of Scandinavia, the northwest coast of North America and Siberia, the Raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or god. Our daughter's best friend in kindergarten is named Kaaren – an Estonian boy's name after the legendary bird. Ironically, he's fair.

For many, a rook may first and foremost be a chess piece (malend). In Estonian, this tower-shaped piece is called a kahur (cannon) or vanker, from its original Persian and Sanskrit meaning "chariot". A rook is also like a crook: a swindler, esp. in cards or dice. To rook means to cheat someone; to sneak a support-beam stick from your neighbour's nest.



 
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