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Corvus: A Life With Birds

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  374 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook, 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 other winged creatures. From their elaborate bathing rituals to their springtime broodiness and tendency to cache food in the most un ...more
Paperback, 337 pages
Published 2009 by Granta Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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I already knew this whole family of birds (crows, rooks, ravens and so on) to be intelligent, even self-aware some claim, but reading Corvus I still found there's a lot more to them than I'd realised.

Woolfson's is the sort of home I reckon every kid should grow up in: ordinary suburban house on the outside, inside it's another world because she takes in stray birds. There's Bardie the cockatiel, Icarus the (non-flying) parrot, Marley the sun conure, Max the starling... What really changed her l
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
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,
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
Maria Longley
Ah, a delightful book! Recounting their family's life with all sorts of birds this is an entertaining read that had me chuckling at several points and reading bits outloud to whoever was nearest. I really enjoyed learning more about the birds and their behaviour indoors. I must've missed out on the anti-corvid propaganda as I can't remember coming across it, but perhaps that's because I lived in a place called "crow swamp" as a child... I loved the sense of dignity afforded to the birds in the b ...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
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
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!
It's taken me a while to finish this due to not much time for reading (work!), but I've learnt so much from it about birds, and any book about living with birds that also quotes Edwin Morgan and Annie Dillard, not to mention Mary Oliver along with Roger Deakin (well, of course) and Chinese poetry was just bound to get me. I need to go back to so much of it so I've just ordered a charity secondhand copy via the lovely Abe Books (sorry I can't do a brand new copy). And thank you to Esther Woolfson ...more
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
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.
I'm not really a fan of these 'yay! let me tell you about this one obscure thing that is my life: let's start with medieval literature and nomenclature...' things. But a talking magpie and a rook that builds a nest under the dining room table? Very interesting. Just skim the 'interesting facts about corvids through history'
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.
Very informative and led to a much greater appreciation of variety within bird life. Thank you for the glimpse into looking after corvids. Enjoyed the descriptions of Aberdeen having once lived there myself.
Roger Neilson
As a bird lover I thought this was excellent, the mix of narrative, and fact, and observation. Some lovely descriptive pieces and the various occupants of the house take on real character, but without the sentimentality and imposition of human attributes. Great read, would hate to have to have my house demolished and dis repaired like that though.
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
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
Katharine Boggess
I loved this- it was fascinating, well written, informative and absorbing.
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.
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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 about Esther Woolfson...
Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary Piano Angel

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