Corvus: A Life with Birds
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Corvus: A Life with Birds

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  261 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook years ago, Esther Woolfson has been fascinated with corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies, and ravens. Today, the rook, named Chicken, is a member of the Woolfson family, along with a talking magpie named Spike, a baby crow named Ziki, a starling, a parrot, and others. From their elaborate bathing ritua...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published 2008 by Granta Books
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Gregory S.
When reading this book, it's probably a good idea to keep reminding yourself that this is, at heart, a love story. There's some science in it, and some history, and a lot of memoir. There's travel and opinion and some astute observation on avian behavior. But don't let that fool you; this is most definitely a love story.

The relationship at the center of the book is between the author, Esther Woolfson, and a rook with the unfortunate name of Madame Chickeboumskaya. Happily, they call her Chicken,...more
This book had a lot of good information, but in my opinion it was not well organized. The author moves randomly from personal experiences with her own bird, scientific bird information, and cultural perception without smooth transitions. I find all of these topics interesting, but there seemed to be a lack of flow or coherent story to pull everything together which lead me to rapidly get bored with the book. I set it down for probably 6 months before finally picking it up again recently and fini...more
I so enjoyed this book, which recounts the love of the author for her birds, most especially a rook she calls "Chicken". She didn't keep birds until she was an adult, but she has not been without their close company since. She began with doves and her household has included, at different times, a cockatiel, a magpie, a crow, and her beloved rook. She keeps doves in an outdoor dovecote, but the other birds have shared her home. I should hasten to add, these are not caged birds. They do have their...more
Paul Stevenson
My main interaction with corvids has been to shoo them away from the bird feeder. I find, having read this book I am more tolerant and respectful of these birds. For that alone It was worth reading. The best parts were where she described her everyday life with the birds and the behaviour of the birds. Despite a background in neuroscience, I found the sections that went in to detail about the anatomy and the brain regions underlying certain corvid behaviours a little bit too deep and jarred with...more
Juliet Wilson
Corvus is a memoir based on the author's relations with birds. Specifically corvids (crows, magpies and jays) and even more specifically the crows and magpies she has kept as pets. In each case the bird was found as a fledgling and abandoned by its parents (fledglings can often seem abandoned but usually the parents are going to come right out, so you should leave them be and trust nature in most cases). I found the style of this book a bit annoying and sometimes felt it could have done with a m...more
You really gotta like birds to read this book. Luckily I do, and have owned various birds, so was amused at the stories by this owner of multiple birds. I've been slightly interested in corvids recently as well, so it was neat to read about her owning various magpies, crows, etc. BUT - the writing can get a little gratuitous at times, elaborating just a little too dramatically, leaving me wishing she'd get to a point. It is also pretty long, for being about a bird owners personal interactions wi...more
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...more
Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Corvus: A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson was a recommendation from a friend. The book is part memoir, part natural history wherein the author uses her experiences of rescuing and caring for birds--and corvids particularly--as a way of delving into the biology, symbology and psychology of birds.

That probably makes it sound a bit clinical when the truth is that this book is a deeply personal one, both for the author and myself. Birds are, for Woolfson, not pets but members of the family. They...more
Jul 24, 2010 Toni rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone seeking a well-written narrative, especially animal lovers.
Shelves: nature, memoir
Woolfson is a lovely writer, adeptly pairing narrative of her experiences living with birds, including three corvids (a rook, a magpie, and a crow) with literary, scientific, and historic references to these often-maligned, intelligent, magnificent creatures. A worthwhile read if you enjoy witty, astute narrative and appreciate animals of any type.
This is a combination of a natural history on corvids and a memoir of the author's life with birds. I think of for someone who already knows a great deal about this group, there wouldn't be many revelations, but I knew relatively little, so enjoyed it very much. Woolfson has a wonderful writing style and I loved how she described things. The birds that live with her can be very funny at times. I laughed a lot while reading this. For myself, I wouldn't want birds flying about the house, so I'm gl...more
Well, I am very glad that once again charlene just happened to pick this up. A life with birds really was in a word lovely to read. It was extremely informative I feel I learned something. I know a little more about migration, moulting, flight, bird song,bird habits, species and their link to dinosaurs. It made me content that there are others who when walking about or driving if a bird catches your eye you can't help but watch for a few minutes and observe. I thought the end where Ester talks a...more
Angela Young
This is a glorious book. It's so seamlessly written it's as if Esther Woolfson transcribed it from one long, concentrated, startlngly clear and well-informed dream.

Woolfson has a gift for intuiting how those other than us, corvids in this case, might live (and think) from her close observation of those she shared her house with. And her own reactions to the way the corvid world might be (and her willingness simply to say 'I don't know' when she doesn't, or wouldn't presume to know) set me thinki...more
Woolfson writes with wonderful lyricism in this love letter to the Corvids,including Chicken the Rook and Spike the magpie, that she inadvertently finds herself sharing her home and life with.
I will never look at a crow, raven, jackdaw, magpie, raven or rook in the same way again. In fact, were it not for the excrement and angst at keeping a wild bird (that Woolfson also feels) I'd love to have a corvid too.

Sylvia Walker
This is such a lovely and thoughtful book! The author regards her rescued birds- a sun conure, a magpie, a rook, a cockatiel (that one was actually a birthday present), and, at the end, a crow- with love and deep respect. She writes on bird biology and evolution, bird mythology, the real truth about "bird brains" and songs, but the heart of the book is a memoir of her family, including the feathered members. The Scottish setting is a plus!
Corvus is the story of Esther Woolfson's relationship with a number of birds which have been brought to her for one reason or another, usually because they were ejected prematurely from their nests. In particular it focuses on two of them: Spike, a magpie, and Chicken a rook.

The birds become part of Esther Wolfson's family and she of theirs. She describes in intimate and poignant detail, the process whereby they get to know one another, they ways in which they communicate, and, above all, the in...more
Grzegorz Chrupała
Woolfson tells about how gradually she filled her house with various birds, especially corvids. She at some pointed lived with rook, a magpie and a crow. There are some funny anecdotes and nuggets of biological information about these species and accounts of their cultural significance. It's quite entertaining, but she's trying a bit too hard to be literary and profound.
Nie potrafię ukryć zachwytu nad tym tytułem. Autorka kreuje przed czytelnikiem niesamowitą wizję świata ptaków opowiadając o swoim życiu z kilkoma przedstawicielami ptasiego rodu pod jednym, wspólnym, dachem. Esther Woolfson przeplata wydarzenia z jej własnego życia z ciekawostkami i faktami ze świata tych zwierząt. Aż dziw bierze, że autorka nie jest z wykształcenia ornitologiem. Jej wiedzy i elokwencji mogłyby pozazdrościć niejeden specjalista. Głównym bohaterem książki jest jednak bezsprzeczn...more
This book about living with a rook named Chicken (and later with a magpie, too) fascinated me. Even though I finished it in December, I find myself giving people facts and details from it pretty regularly.
Catherine Austen
What a lovely book - evocative, sensory, vibrant - I loved it. (I only read the crow parts but they were wonderful.) Beautifully written.
Thanks to Grrlbrarian over at the SMDB, I picked up this book from the library & am almost done.

It's a quick read - being a memoir about living in a Scotland city with various feathered friends over the years - primarily Chicken, a rook, but also a talking magpie named Spike, and a crow named Ziki, as well as some odd psittacines and of course, the residents of the dovecote.
It's all a bit cozy - Woolfson throws in some scientific background here & there and a few literary references as...more
Began with enthusiasm for a normal mum who found herself nudged into a slightly eccentric life with these clever and fascinating birds. Initially interested in the natural history sections too, but got bogged down eventually. Glad I persevered though.
While I found the story the author was telling to be interesting, one more piece to the corvid puzzle when they interact with humans on the inside, sometimes Woolfson's writing got in the way. She's not a bad writer by far, but her sentences can run on a bit too much and with all the strings of adjectives punctuated with so many commas, it could have used a little bit of different editing. It's almost awkward when you first begin to read after being away from the text for a bit, but like letting...more
I loved this book which has inspired me to dive into bird related literature and websites. Years ago I read King Soloman's Ring by Konrad Lorenz and it was the memory of this great book that inspired me to read Corvus. Esther was fortunate perhaps that none of her birds attempted to feed her by stuffing worms into her ears as Lorenz' jackdaw did!

Caron's review has a link to 2 podcasts by Esther Woolfson.

Corvoid fans check out this link.
Katherine Kreuter
adored this book, so sorry it's finished. wonderful writing. opens the mind to a new world, once that surrounds us noisily and yet we ignore. k
An enjoyable and erudite memoir of Woolfson's life with birds. She does not confine her love, nor her writing, to the corvids- though they do make up the bulk of the book. Some of the gritty realities of sharing a space with very intelligent birds made me re-think my desire for a magpie- caching mincemeat between the pages of a book, f'rinstance, or hiding bits of squid atop the fridge. I learned a lot about both birds and Woolfson from this book, and I relished the journey.
I love this - every bit of it. I want to find myself walking down an Aberdeen street and see Esther helping a shabby dark bird, I want to help her take it home. This was a joy because it wasn't simply trying to educate us about corvids, although it did that too. She effectively shared the very personal experience of having feathered family members. What a joy. Every time a magpie lands in our garden now I say 'hello' - I live in hope one might answer back!
It merits at least four stars. Not only is the author elegant in her prose, but she also gives us insight into the personality and intelligence of birds, esp. corvids. She also tells us about habits, nesting, feather design, the mechanics of flight, and moulting.
Too bad the book ended where it did, when she had just adopted a crow that apparently had no voice, after having a rook and a magpie in her house, as well as a parrot and a conure ( a type of sunbird?).
Leanne Ellis
A sweet book of love between animals and their humans. Esther Woolfson writes in a lovely easy manner.
Sara Gray
Three and a half stars. I really enjoyed this engaging story of Woolfson's family taking care of lost and abandoned corvid chicks (namely a magpie, a rook, and a crow), and the details of her daily life with such fascinating animals was fun to read (and disabused my fantasy of having a pet corvid myself, as they are MESSY). Woolfson's prose was a bit precious at first, but soon won me over with its sensitivity and beauty.
Fascinating, well-written and un-put-downable. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy.
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Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University.

Her critically acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies including 'New Writing Scotland' and several volumes of 'Scottish Short Stories'and have been read on Radio 4.

She has won prizes for them and for nature writing. She was awarded a Scottish Arts Council...more
More about Esther Woolfson...
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