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Can you join in the ‘great rook nest hunt’ in Norfolk?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 February 2014

Malcolm Metcalf appealed for help in the EDP letters pages to do a survey of rooks' nest He was inundated with calls and now he does a survey each year.

Picture: James Bass

Malcolm Metcalf appealed for help in the EDP letters pages to do a survey of rooks' nest He was inundated with calls and now he does a survey each year. Picture: James Bass

Armed with his trusty concessionary bus pass, Malcolm Metcalf has made it his mission to marshal a large-scale study of rooks’ nests in Norfolk.

And along the way, the inspiring 80-year-old has slaked his wanderlust and made a swathe of new friends across the county.

It was in March 2011, when Mr Metcalf was riding on a bus from Great Yarmouth to King’s Lynn, that he observed many rooks building their nests.

The keen naturalist wondered if a count of rooks’ nests had ever been undertaken in Norfolk and so he started to keep a tally.

An appeal in the letters page of the Eastern Daily Press for bird fans to join his “great rook nest hunt” sparked a tremendous response from readers.

The first survey found 4,115 nests, but as more and more people joined in the hunt this doubled to 8,243 nests in 2012 and reached 10,095 last year.

Mr Metcalf, a member of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society and a past president and past secretary of the Great Yarmouth Naturalists’ Society, said: “I have spoken to and met so many wonderful people. Some send me photographs and maps and it’s been wonderful visiting then.

“I have discovered all these wonderful villages in Norfolk that I had never heard of.

“Now this is the fourth year and I’m looking forward to it again and it will hopefully be so much easier now I’ve got the email.”

Mr Metcalf, who lives in Gorleston and has a twin brother, said he wanted to thank everyone who had contributed to the survey and to tell EDP readers about what he had found.

In 2013, Mr Metcalf had 58 new people respond to the survey, discovering 2,444 nests between them.

He said the cold spring last year had an impact on nesting and most contributors reported that the rooks nested much later as a result.

The survey has given Mr Metcalf a reason to pursue his love of travelling, although this time a little closer to home.

He has written two books about his travels. The first was based on a 16,000-mile hitch-hiking trip to Australia in 1970 and the second on the 200,000 miles he has travelled and the people he has met on Amtrak trains in America.

He said: “I have always been a traveller. When I was 19 I had TB of the spine and I lay in plaster in bed for over a year. My twin brother bought me a book on travelling and I have now been around the world three times.

“I have also always been interested in nature and natural history as well.

“I kept seeing rooks in different places and it’s easy to spot their nests because they are big.

“In May you can’t see them as all the leaves are on the trees so I find April the best time as they haven’t always finished building the nests in March.

“If you see a bird that looks like a rook or a crow, if it’s on its own then it’s probably a crow because rooks always nest together.

“The big surprise has been how many there are across Norfolk.”

The Norfolk Rook Nest Survey is published in the Norfolk Natterjack - the quarterly bulletin of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society.

To report rooks’ nests, email Mr Metcalf at, call him on 01493 661138 or write to 43 Magdalen Way, Gorleston, Norfolk NR31 7BW.

Do you have a story about birds? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772474 or email

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