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Corvus: A Life with Birds [Hardcover]

Esther Woolfson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Aug 2008
Esther Woolfson has been fascinated by corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies and ravens, since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook sixteen years ago. That rook - named Chicken - has lived with the family ever since. Other birds have also taken their place in the household - a magpie, starling, parrot and the inhabitants of an outdoor dovehouse. But above all, it has been the corvids (a talking magpie named Spike, Chicken the rook, and, recently, a baby crow named Ziki) that she has formed the closest attachments with, amazed by their intelligence, personality and capacity for affection.Living with birds has allowed Woolfson to learn aspects of bird behaviour which would otherwise have been impossible to know - the way they happily become part of the structure of a family, how they communicate, their astonishing empathy. We hear about Chicken's fears and foibles: her hatred of computers and other machines and her love of sitting on Woolfson's knee in the evening and having her neck scratched; the birds' elaborate bathing rituals, springtime broodiness, and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places. Woolfson tells the darker story of way corvids have always been objects of superstition and persecution; and with the lightest of touches, she weaves in the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song and flight throughout. Her account of her experiences is funny, touching and beautifully written, and gives fascinating insights into the closeness human beings can achieve with wild creatures.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (4 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080294
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080295
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 15 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


' ... the most unusual and compelling nature book' -- The Herald

'A triumph'
-- The Irish Times

'Exquisitely written ... Corvus stands as a serious corrective to the notion that only exotic animals are worthy of attention'
-- Observer

'This book is so entertaining and intelligent' -- Spectator

'Woolfson possesses a sense of humour and a gift for fine writing' -- The Daily Mail

`Nature writing at its best' -- The Sunday Times

About the Author

Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University. Her acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have been read on Radio 4. She has won prizes both for them and for nature writing. She has been the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer's Bursary. She lives in Aberdeen.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and life-affirming 9 Nov 2008
Corvus is an enchanting book. There is no sentimentality here - indeed, Esther Woolfson goes to rigorous lengths to avoid anthropomorphism - and yet the entire book is infused with warmth, charm and humanity, whilst the birds themselves - very much the stars of the piece - are quite wonderful. The episodic narrative, charting the author's own journey of avian experience and discovery - punctuated by digressions on topics such as birds in folklore, bird physiology, bird evolution, bird flight and bird song - is completely compelling: I could barely put it down. The expositions themselves are equally interesting, hugely informed and informing, but never daunting. Beautifully written, the prose is spare but elegant, seemingly almost taking on the metre of bird song itself. Other significant themes also run, almost imperceptibly, through the book: the art of 'seeing' and observation, the scientific method, the idea of 'North', the comfort of home and family. This is not a 'heavy' book - it first came to my attention through hearing a very brief extract on (BBC) Radio 4 - but there is great sensitivity and wisdom here. If you've ever stood at a window or sat on a bench and watched a bird walk or hop or feed or fly, then Corvus will almost certainly enrich your life and provide a fresh, new perspective the next time you see a rook, crow, magpie or one of their feathered relations. A joy from cover to cover.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing - subtle and effective 18 Sep 2008
By D. M. Purkiss VINE VOICE
Maybe Robert Macfarlane and Jay Griffiths should be forced to read this book, because without a single overdressed metaphor, without a single unnecessary word of any kind, it tells a series of subtle, clear and profoundly moving stories. It's a delight to meet Spike, and Chicken, and the other birds who soar and wing through the pages, the rhythmical, shapely pages. Envy! I wish I'd written this. Observation wonderful. Interesting that birds are so despised. I read this because having kept chickens I've also come to know and feed jackdaws and rooks, and all three kinds of bird are so bright and so interesting that I simply can't see why we once despised them. I shall read the sequel, if any.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, informative, a must buy!!! 21 Aug 2008
By SylviaB
The main theme of Corvus is the story of a baby rook owned by the autor but it also concerns broader subjects such as natural history and wild birds.

The parts about Woolfsons pet birds are a funny and touching potrait of a family and their pets, a little remeniscent of "my family and other animals".

The parts about natural history are more serious and require concentration but well worth it particularly the parts discussing birds relationship to dinosaurs.

I really loved this and hope that Esther Woolfson writes more of the same.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting and informative 7 Jan 2011
By bunnyw
This is a great read and a must for all slightly geeky, warm-hearted nature lovers. Although I'm already a keen birdwatcher, my eyes were opened to the intriguing world of these often maligned but undeniably splendid and intelligent birds. Esther Woolfson provides a lovely mixture of corvid science, ecology and folklore alongside her personal experiences and anecdotes of sharing her home with various birds including a rook (Chicken) and a magpie (Spike). I found this blend of fact and fiction very well balanced. At a stroke I was learning details of corvid social behaviour and brain power, alongside stories of superstition and myth.

But what really made it for me were the relationships between Esther and the helpless infant corvids that, having fallen from their family nests, she took in and raised in her home in Aberdeen. Nurturing and living with Chicken and Spike gave Esther an unprecedented opportunity to study corvid behaviour. Her love and care of these birds is evident, as is her awareness and respect for them as wild and highly independent-minded creatures. The description of the greeting ritual between the author and Chicken each morning is very touching - how many people do you know who've had the priviledge of bowing and greeting a adult female rook at the bottom of their stairs each morning?!!

I hope others enjoy Corvus as much as I did.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully humorous and touching 4 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a delightfully humorous and touching account of a life shared with birds. Okay, you might think, nothing so extraordinary about that, but these birds are not your common-or-garden budgies-in-a cage. It all started when Esther Woolfson took on a small flock of doves and became fascinated by them; eventually she gained a reputation as someone who knew about birds and when a tiny, almost bald, rook was brought to her what could she do but take her in. And so began her life with Chicken, who is later joined by Spike the magpie and various other feathered people. Her whole family become involved and quickly come to love these feathered additions to the household.

It is difficult not to become involved with the antics of these birds as they enjoy the run of the house. They have distinct personalities, and although the author is at pains not to humanise these wonderful creatures, one can't help but become immersed in this household. There are chapters about birds in folklore, birdsong, bird physiology all of which are interesting and quite different in tone, and it's obvious the author knows her stuff, and when she doesn't she knows how to do her research, which was certainly the case when it came to feeding tiny birds of different breeds.

The author explains her dilemma in having these essentially wild birds in her home, living what is an unnatural life. What would have happened to them had she not taken them in? Had they survived - which is doubtful as they had fallen out of their nests - they would almost certainly have been able to fly, nest and breed in the wild, albeit with a much shorter life. However living in the confines of a house they seem to have enjoyed a happy life, and we, through the pages of this book, are able to learn more about these wonderful corvids.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book. A real commitment to sharing life with ...
An amazing book . A real commitment to sharing life with several birds giving new insights into behaviour.
Published 14 days ago by Linda Blenkinship
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book. A beautifully written mixture of anecdote and ...
A great book. A beautifully written mixture of anecdote and review of the scientific literature about the birds Woolfson loves and has lived with. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Squirrel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by JASON MORGAN
5.0 out of 5 stars a revelatory view of the corbies
I loved this book. She is such a good writer and has such a story to tell of sharing the family home with a collection of individual characters in the form of birds who seem to... Read more
Published 4 months ago by siouxx
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and informative
I have read this before and loved it . I now have an injured crow residing with me and have returned to this informative and inspirational book once more. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Susan Abbiss Stubbs
5.0 out of 5 stars Corvus
An amazing book to confirm how interesting and intelligent ravens are. Ordered a couple to give as presents, Good quality and fast posting.
Published 6 months ago by Ms. B. Barnes
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad read.
Well enough written. Found myself feeling sorry for the birds though when the author described how their natural seasonal instincts left them a little frustrated.
Published 7 months ago by davydavi
3.0 out of 5 stars not what I hoped
Having found a hurt fledgling, I wanted to give the little chap the best care I could. I didn't find any help to understand the ways of the Corvus and I can not say I enjoyed the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by marcelus
3.0 out of 5 stars A Different Read
Some very interesting facts included and interesting to hear how someone devotes their life to birds and sees the positive side of magpies!! Read more
Published 8 months ago by Dancing Queen
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
This is a book that enhances and changes your life. I have also bought it for best friends so that they can delight in this lovely true story.
Published 8 months ago by 666albertastarr
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