Corvus by Esther Woolfson

3.5 out of 5 stars

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 interest began when her daughter brought home a fledgeling rook that she had rescued. She nursed it back to health and Woolfson clips her feathers to stop her flying as they are concerned that she wouldn’t survive in the wild. She ends up staying as a family pet. They call her the faintly ridiculous name of Madame Chickeboumskaya. It was shortened to Chicken, which I thought was equally daft!

They had had a number of birds before this rook and she had doves outside her Aberdeen home too. But watching her moving around the house and interacting with everything, she didn’t expect her to be quite as intelligent as she was. She would cache food, especially items that she liked, but would think nothing of ignoring some that were presented to her. They construct a wire enclosure to allow her outside sometimes, but they need to be wary of the neighbour’s cat. Her daily rituals become much as part of the family as their own.

Further along the line, she acquires a magpie that had fallen from the nest before fledging and she calls it Spike. His wings are not clipped. He was very different in behaviour to Chicken and she found it fascinating comparing them to each other. Watching these two birds piques her interest in other corvids and she is lucky to see ravens nesting on a trip to Lochaber.

I did like this book, reading it feels like you are sitting at the kitchen table watching the antics of her two semi-wild birds happen around you. Her writing is gentle, beautiful and occasionally whimsical. These are sparklingly intelligent birds that can even mimic her voice and some of the phrases that she says. They are characters and love a routine. However, I am not sure about the morality of keeping a rook and a magpie inside. I feel these are wild birds and should be free. That said, she cares deeply for them, almost as much as her children and they would not have stood much of a chance if they hadn’t have been rescued. All through the book are beautiful drawings by Helen Macdonald of H is for Hawk fame. Might not be for everyone, but I thought it was worth reading.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    That is a difficult one, isn’t it – if she hadn’t taken them in they wouldn’t have survived, but.

    • Paul

      Very much that, Liz. Quite a dilemma

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