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Corvus: A Life With Birds

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  582 Ratings  ·  97 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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Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 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
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Natalie (weneedhunny)
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Paula Kirman
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.
Juliet Wilson
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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.
Janet Moore
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyed this and it made me look at these birds quite differently.
Wm. A.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author has lived with birds in her house in Scotland for years. She started with pigeons, then I think a cockatiel, then a parrot, then people started bringing her lost baby birds. That's how she got a rook (basically a type of crow), then a magpie, and near the end of the book, a crow. I was a bit disappointed by the book. There isn't a whole lot about the birds' behavior and intelligence, and more than I wanted about the author's life and activities. One thing that's hard for me to fathom ...more
Trish Morris
Jul 26, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
People and pets ! This was a wild creature denied its own natural life which may have been brutal and short but it's own. Why not rescue all crows from the natural world . I read this to find out about crows not the relationship pet owners have with the animals confined in their four walls. So sad
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished, nature
For some reason this book didn't strike the right note for me, so let myself leave it unfinished.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Husband of Margaret Atwood (didn't realize this until I had finished all of the stories!) Yes, this book is sad, but the extermination of birds is real and happens all too often. I think it is a very brilliant collection of stories and artwork. Being aware isn't always cheery. I found it inspiring to learn more about the birds among us now...
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
This book wasn't what I was expecting, but I very much enjoyed it. Hearing the scientific facts on animals I'll find endlessly interesting, but to hear about what they were like as individuals was great.

"When it snows...I open the kitchen curtains for Bardie, whose house is placed carefully so he has a good view of the garden. He looks out, and at the sight of the altered light, the White ivy outside the window, he shrieks like a delighted child with many loud, repeated exclamations of excite
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Gregory S.
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Sep 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris Harris
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Engaging, quirky read which documents a lifetime spent interacting with members of the crow family; not in the wild, but as members of the writer's household. Chicken the rook, Spike the magpie and a host of supporting characters are endearing and fascinating. It's a chronicle of truly idiosyncratic family life, in the fine tradition of writers such as Gerald Durrell. If "My Family and Other Animals" is your sort of thing, you'll find this right up your street.

Combine this with a raft of philos
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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...

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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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