Thursday 26 March 2009

Whiffling Away

Another blowy day, and the crows are doing that flying sideways thing of theirs. It seems to be something you only ever see crows and rooks doing, and it's a reminder that, for all their ungainly gait and laborious take-off, once airborne they are no mean acrobats. In his fine account of the enchantment of corvids, Crow Country, Mark Cocker describes the aerobatic displays that flocks of rooks sometimes put on just before they settle down to roost - in particular, when they descend on the roost in 'a wild downward tumbling flight, performing a series of abrupt switchback twists and swerves'. Another observer, Edgar Harper, suggests that you can get a good idea of the effect by 'cutting an outline of a bird with outstretched wings in paper, and dropping it from a fairly good height'. It is rather like a stunt pilot deliberately stalling his engine and going into an apparently out-of-control descent to the ground. This maneouvre of the roosting rooks is known as 'whiffling'. What a perfect word. It should have more applications...


  1. The last whiffle I heard came from a Jabberwock if memory serves me right.

    My office overlooks a large field, on the other side of which are pitched daily battles between some crows and a hawk. The crows do a wonderful job of mobbing the hawk and totally outwitting him at every turn with their manoeverability

    I like to think of their antics as geeks kicking sand in a bully's face

  2. Surprising how hard crows are, twelve gauge shot is needed to bring them down. Flycatchers arrived yesterday Nige, wearing pakamacs and we've discovered why the Buzzards have been seen above us so often in recent weeks, there nesting in one of the Sitka in the wood. Took a peak this morning, the trees were swaying like crazy, didn't stop them nest repairing.