Sunday, January 31, 2016

Corvus by Esther Woolfson


Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson, London, Granta Books. 2008. 337pp. ISBN: 978-1-84708-029-5

There are a lot of books written about the Corvidae family of birds. They have intrigued, beguiled and reviled humans probably forever. Many books are written by academic researchers and are often rather dry yet they are never purely so. John Marzluff and his ally Tony Angell write wonderful books for the lay reader. They are replete with facts and data but also personalized. So does Berndt Heinrich.

Having read many books about corvids I feel like I can say much about the literature that is there for avid but non-academic readers. Animal behavior, specifically bird behavior and even more specifically Corvid research is my own avocation. I have Google Scholar send me feeds of new research, I follow https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/ from Kaeli Swift and get feeds from them as well. I just cannot stop learning about crows, ravens, jays and magpies. It must be in my DNA.

So in my research I only recently came across Woolfson’s 2008 book. There is no Kindle version and apparently no booksellers in the US who vend it. My copy came from the central England town of Derbyshire and the author from Scotland. It was another woman writer who mixed memoir with information about their experiences with this family of birds. That is not mentioned to be negative. Several women have written with a similar style and each has offered much information for readers like myself. Lyanda Haupt and Candace Savage have written about their very personal relationships with the birds including teaching their children some life values by relating them to these birds.

All that being said this particular book, now eight years old is in the ilk of the ones mentioned above. Woolfson draws from her personal experience, to describe the relationship with “rescued” birds and her family. The prose is wonderful, it flows like a novel. I almost imagined that the entire book was written in a breathy whisper.

It was much more than a memoir. The author approaches her knowledge of the family of birds from an objective perspective. She questions all of her notions of corvid behavior, recognizing that better (or accurate) explanations may currently be out of her reach. As any scientifically minded individual, she knows that the more one learns, the more there is to learn.

I came upon this book too late. She cited books and authors that I have already completed. They were good ones too, and well cited. She even mentioned an interesting tidbit from the neuroscientist, Erich Jarvis whose laboratory’s web page I often haunt. She really did her research.

This is an excellent book for an interested reader who is only beginning to be curious about this family. Too bad it is hard to get a copy of it on this side of the Atlantic.

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