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Corvus: A Life with Birds

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  864 ratings  ·  140 reviews
16 years ago, Esther Woolfson's daughter rescued a fledgling rook. That rook, named Chicken, has lived with the family ever since - along with a talking magpie named Spike and a crow named Ziki. A blend of memoir and natural history, this book brings Chicken and the others vividly to life.
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published 2008 by Granta Books
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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Judith Johnson
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I love black birds of all kinds - blackbirds, of course, with their cheery whistling, yellow beaks, and bright inquisitive eyes, but also crows, rooks and ravens.

Some years back back I bought the book Corvus - A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson (Granta), for my son Tom, since we've always shared a joy in watching birds in the garden. I'd heard extracts from the book read on BBC Radio 4 while driving. I later borrowed it from Tom, and found it a rich, enjoyable read. I was amused and delighted
...more
BrokenTune
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
GR is way too cumbersome to post picture, so for a more colourful version of the below, please visit here.

Birds have arrived, the chosen and the unwanted, the damaged, the accidentally displaced from nests. They have stayed, or gone, leaving, all of them, their own determined avian imprint, entirely unrelated to size or species, and with each has been established an enduring sense of connection, one that extends far, towards a world, a life, a society, of which once I knew nothing at all.

Of all
...more
Penny
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-fauna
2017 is the year when I (try to) stop ordering, buying, borrowing, downloading new books and read some of the literally hundreds that have been on my bookshelves for some time.
Corvus: A Life with Birds is the first one I selected, and it was a great choice.
Woolfson mainly tells us about life with Chicken, the 'rescue rook' that lives as part of their family in North East Scotland. But we also get to learn about other birds that share the house - much as I might love them there is no way I could
...more
Viv JM
During the lockdown, Granta Books offered a number of their titles as ebooks for 99p with a different theme each week. I grabbed this on a whim during their nature week and it turned out to be the perfect lockdown read - an antidote to the pull of the constant doom and gloom news cycle.

As the title suggests, this is an account of the author's "life with birds" with emphasis on the corvids she has rescued and raised, including a magpie, a crow and star of the show - Chicken the Rook. Interspersed
...more
Richard
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: b-nature
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
...more
Allison
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Paul
Every day that I am out and about there are four birds that I am guaranteed to see, gulls, pigeons, magpies and crows. I am not a fan of the first two, but the latter two are always fascinating to watch, whatever they are doing. Just watching crows dancing in the wind is quite something. We have had the odd bird in the house before now, including a magpie recently, but I am not sure that I would want one in the home as a pet though.

Esther Woolfson is another who is fascinated by corvids, but her
...more
Caren
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
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
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 06, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Melody
Aug 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
sisterimapoet
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction14
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!
Summer Frost
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by corvids, particularly crows. This book is a delight, filled with warm recollections and detailed observations of the birds who share the author's life. Woolfson writes intelligently and engagingly, the memoir is interspersed with factual information as she tries to understand her avian companions better. Chicken, a rescued Rook is the central character, complex and at times unfathomable yet utterly fascinating and endearing. I loved this.
Kirsti
Apr 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Wile I enjoyed the focus of this book (the author's experiences with raising a rook, magpie and finally a crow) I have to say the writing left a lot to be desired. Perhaps it was my own English teachers crossing out commas and substituting them for full stops, but I cannot stand to see more than one in a sentence. Some of the sentences in this book ran on for half a page with eight or ten commas. The point of the sentence was lost long before they finished. I felt my eye twitching.

BUT the main p
...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
An interesting and delightful book for bird lovers in general and corvid lovers in particular. Esther Woolfson writes of the birds she has taken into her home, parrots, a starling, a rook, a cockatiel, a magpie, a crow, and the many doves she created a shed home for in her backyard. Of all of them, she states that it has been the corvids, the rook, magpie, and crow, who altered forever her relationship to the rest of the world and her view of a hierarchy of form, intellect, and ability. These bi ...more
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Esther Woolfson’s Corvus is at once a chronicling of Woolfson’s way into a life with birds, as well as musings of a more general kind circling around the flying (and sometimes, non-flying) creature. The book opens with the chapter heading “Before birds” in which Woolfson describes how unexpected this life path was to her, how she came into a life as a birdie not really planning nor striving for it. It seems to have just kind of happened, and when it had - there was no going back. She talks of he ...more
Cindy
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was somewhat along the lines of H is for Hawk. Living in Aberdeen, Scotland, Esther becomes the bird lady in town who learns how to feed and care for fledgling corvids. Most were not candidates to be released back into the wild, so her house became their sanctuary. Her assortment of birds and their personalities made for most interesting reading. Corvids, a group which includes rooks, ravens, crows and magpies, are smart and vocal birds. Esther's love for these creatures is evident thr ...more
Toni
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone seeking a well-written narrative, especially animal lovers.
Shelves: memoir, nature
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.
John
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Corvus seems to get mixed reviews. I think I understand why. Rather like Helen MacDonald's H is for Hawk it's part personal narrative and part popular science which don't always mix well. Or maybe it's only for bird enthusiasts? But I really enjoyed it. She's clearly very knowledgable and has a lovely fluent style of writing in many places.
Kris
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was picking up a book on Southwestern birds at the library when I saw this on the same shelf. It looked interesting, and it was. The author intersperses her observations of the birds who live with her with scientific facts about birds.
Paula Kirman
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Corvus is part-memoir, part scientific information about birds in the corvid family: crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, and blue jays, mostly. The author is very knowledgable about birds and often rescues them, making them part of her family.
Shula
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exquisite.
Fox
Corvus is a delightful book about the corvids, and other birds, that the author has known and loved. It is far less a memoir than it is a celebration of how she came to be Aberdeen's 'bird person', the learning curve of living with such intelligent and communicative animals, and a brief glance through the other side of telescope of how corvids have been misunderstood, persecuted, and otherwise turned into ill-omens that anyone who truly knows the bird would know is ridiculous. Corvids are very ...more
Juliet Wilson
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
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
Roselle Angwin
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, and carried it everywhere – like a corvid?! –with me for the few days it took me to finish it (obviously in between other things).

The writing is beautiful, the birds are so well-observed, and though yes there is an occasional comma de trop, it didn't in any way obscure or diminish the text.

I know a bit about corvids (a jackdaw shared our house for a while when I was a child) and learned a great deal more.

I like the author's mix of biography, observation and science, and the b
...more
Lisa
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jo
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
This wasn't an especially coherent record of anything; it's more of a wander through her memories of birds she has known, in no particular time order and interspersed with musings (mostly about birds). Nonetheless I really enjoyed her style of writing, her beautiful descriptions of both birds and of Scotland, and, while there's nothing gripping about the narrative, I never wanted to abandon it entirely. I feel as though I've had a pleasant visit at her house.
Cat
On the surface, this book appears simple - a story of the birds (corvids: rook, magpie, crow) who share the authors life and house, with facts/history/science/poetry/literary ideas and information thrown in.

It has, quite simply, the most beautiful prose I have ever read in a non-fiction work. I am completely blown away. I lingered over reading it, because I found it so lovely. It is poetic.
Janet Moore
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this and it made me look at these birds quite differently.
Ana
Esther Woolfson offers a fascinating insight into the lives of birds -mainly corvids- in this book, part nature writing and part memoir.

Woolfson has particular trouble defining herself as a bird expert, bird-owner or bird-keeper, favoring a definition that leans toward that of a housemate instead. Her relationship with birds begins rather abruptly when given a chance to look after some doves. Until then, she admits not giving much thought to them. What follows after is how this unplanned encount
...more
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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

News & Interviews

    Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times, is the author of the newly...
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“By the twentieth century, with true American enthusiasm for the task in hand, corvid colonies were being destroyed by dynamite. That this literal overkill, the use of bombing against birds, doesn’t appear to have made any difference to corvid numbers can only be a comfort to those who might question, in general, the results of disproportionate balances of power.” 0 likes
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