The original saying goes something like “A rook on its own is a crow and a crow in a crowd is a rook.” Rooks and crows do look quite similar: medium-to-large-sized black birds. The sound of their call is not exactly the same but neither of them sing like, for instance, a blackbird (small-to-medium-sized with a yellow beak except for the female which is brown all over). I’m told that rooks have a white beak – unless they are young rooks in which case it may be black. I forebear from a digression about ravens.

None of this information is much use when all you can see is a darkish bird shape in a rainy sky. I really struggle with bird watching as most birds round here fit into just three categories: 1) small brownish, 2) large blackish, and 3) sea gull. Yes, I know that there are such things as ducks, swans, peacocks, parrots and the like but they don’t come anywhere near our garden or even in the wet field I happen to be looking at this soggy morning.

As for the crows, I find that old country saying confusing. Crow rhymes (sort of) with crowd so to my logical mind it ought to be the rooks who go around all on their lonesome. Rook rhymes with crook so I can easily picture one of these birds as a solitary criminal skulking about in the foliage awaiting the chance to do some misdeed.

In the meantime, I suppose I want to get my head round what they are really like. Rooks live in a rookery with others of their ilk – hence the crowd. As for crows, I think of a crow’s nest – either (figuratively) the solitary look-out high above the sails of an old sailing ship, or, dotted about the trees with each nest at some distance from each other. Crows do live away from each other.

So my new, improved saying goes: “Crows don’t crowd, rooks do.”

Personally, I prefer sparrows as they remind me of where I grew up, but you don’t see many of them these days.