Rooks at Stoneycroft

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  • James Bowman

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Traffic was diverted on busy Omahu Road, Hastings in early October while a helicopter hovered over the grounds of Stoneycroft, a man dangling from a sling below . . .

This was history in the making. The helicopter and its slingman were attacking a colony of rooks, birds which have been a plague since they were introduced to the province from England late in the 1800s.

Stoneycroft is the home of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank, where Hawke’s Bay’s history is being recorded for posterity, so now we have notes in our records of the origin of the birds in Hawke’s Bay and of the attempts to exterminate them. 

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, which carried out the task, has spent about $13 million in the past 10 years on a rook control programme, from Te Haroto to Norsewood, targeting the pest birds during their annual nesting season. The nests high in a gum tree at Stoneycroft were home to one of four colonies that had established itself around Hasings. Others colonies were in rural areas north of Napier, and on Napier Hill. The birds had found Hawke’s Bay a great place to be, dining with gusto on crop seeds.

Rooks have been known to leave their mark on the land as if a mob of pigs had been through a paddock, their strong beaks working like digging machines.

This is unlikely in the vicinity of Stoneycroft, where we are pleased to report that whilst we are recording the oral history of residents, we no longer have to worry about the raucous noise that the rooks have been making.

The rook, a species mentioned by Guthrie-Smith, seems to have been introduced by the Hawke’s Bay Acclimatisation Society and some by the Hawke’s Bay Provincial Council in the late 1800s. In 1960 the area occupied by breeding rooks in Hawke’s Bay was some six times larger than it was in 1930. The birds sometimes cause considerable damage to newly sown peas, cereals and pumpkins. They are also are a serious concern in the maize-growing areas as mentioned in the book “Hawke’s Bay Acclimatisation Society Centenary 1868-1968”.

Young marked rooks from the Hastings and Maraekakaho area have been found at Napier airport (another concern for airplanes), at Kereru to the west and near Tikokino to the south.

At Stoneycroft in the eucalyptus tree there were six to eight nests, with 20 or more adult rooks making up the rookery.

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