Wednesday 28 September 2011

Corvus by Esther Woolfson

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 more thorough editing. However, having said that it is a delightful read. Full of the antics of Spike the magpie, Chicken the rook and Ziki the crow. They seem to have more or less free range of Woolfson's house (and make quite a mess!). They also have huge personalities and are very entertaining. Woolfson often uses incidents from the birds lives as a starting point to talk about elements of bird biology - so the book covers evolution, the structure of feathers, myths and folklore about crows and musings on the intelligence of birds. The reader is left with no doubt whatsoever that corvids are intelligent:

We were standing by the kitchen stove discussing [Spike's future]....... Spike formed a triangle with us, part of the conversation, standing, as he had just learned to do, on the ears of the wooden rabbit on the mantlepiece, when he joined the discourse, gave forth his opinion, sealed the argument.

'Hello!"he said, very suddenly, loudly, with astonishing clarity. Han and I stared, gaped. Then even louder 'Spike!' He was pleased with his effort. 'Spike. Spikey. Hello! Spikey? SPIKE. His voice was a voice so human as to be shocking.

A must read for bird lovers!

Corvus by Esther Woolfson published by Granta


eileeninmd said...

Sounds great, maybe I can find a copy here to read.

bunnits said...

I'll certainly have to look for a copy of that one.

Alison Wiley said...

Amazing. I've never in all my born days heard of a magpie uttering words. I'm thinking about sending a copy of this to one of my bird-loving friends.

On a separate topic, thank you for the explanation of haiku that you left on Diamond-Cut Life. I'd had no idea there was so much more to it than 5-7-5. Of course I would need a crafty poet like yourself to explain it to me!