337 pages, b/w illustrations
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 the 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.
"Like all the best accounts of a life shared with animals (Gerald Durrell comes inevitably to mind), Corvus offers much in the way of domestic comedy [...] Exquisitely written – Gallopingly readable"
"A number of qualities make this unlikely book such a triumph. The first is the author's character, as revealed in the tone of her narrative voice – Then there is the deceptive simplicity of Woolfson's best writing – Finally though, it is her ever-present sense of fresh wonder which carries us lightly to the very last page"
– Irish Times
"Funny, touching and beautifully written – a fascinating insight into the closeness human beings can achieve with wild creatures"
– Sunday Times
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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.