This post was prompted by someone on my twitter feed who asked that I put together a reading list for people who want to learn more about corvids; a totally kick-ass idea if I say so myself. The following are all the books I have read and can speak personally to, however, I’m sure there are others and I encourage folks to add them in the comments section. As a preface, I’ll remind readers that John Marzluff is my graduate adviser, nevertheless, I assure you that I genuinely believe he is a fantastic writer and my review of his books are not inflated in the hopes of getting approval on my dissertation. 🙂 So without much further adieu, here’s a list of all the corvid books I’ve read with a brief synopsis of the material and my recommendation.
In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John Marzluff and Tony Angell
If watching, feeding or rehabilitating corvids is something you do in your free time, consider this your crow bible. Curious how long crows live? What they do as juveniles? The sounds they make? The ways the interact with people? It’s all in there. This book remains my go-to guide for general crow knowledge. Yet, despite the fact its backbone is rigorous science, it’s written in a way that feels very easy to digest. John and Tony wrote it with the intent that it would be for a wide audience and I think they achieved that beautifully. After reading this book, I have no doubt you’ll have a deeper understanding for these birds, not to mention a new admiration for Tony’s artwork. I even used one of his drawings for the book on the invitations for my wedding (with permission, of course).
Dog Days Raven Nights by John and Colleen Marzluff
This is the book I most often recommend to my own friends and family. Not because it offers superior or more easily read information on corvids, but because this book gives you the best insight into what it really means to do fieldwork. Nearly the entirety of the book focuses on the period of time after John and Colleen had finished their graduate work in Arizona, and were conducting a post-doctoral study on ravens with Bernd Heinrich in remote Maine. It’s organized as a back and forth between John and Colleen, which means you get two perspectives on the raven work and Colleen’s development as a dog sledder and trainer. As a reader, you experience what it means to completely dedicate every moment, piece of sanity, and dime you have on conducting a field experiment and you walk away with a much deeper appreciation for how difficult it is to answer questions of animal behavior. If the human dimension of science isn’t your interest, however, fear not. The book is still loaded with fascinating information on ravens including, in my opinion, one of John’s most important contributions which is information sharing among ravens. An excellent read for sure.
Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell
For those looking for a more scientifically dense reading on crow behavior and neurology this is the book for you. It doesn’t make for the lighthearted Sunday reading that ITCOCR does, but it still satisfies the trademark Marzluff style of mixing rigorous science with the anecdotal stories of crow behavior that makes us love them. If you’ve been fascinated by the story of Gabi Mann, the little girl who feeds and gets gifts from crows, then this is the scientific background you need to see the whole picture.
Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
Long before John Marzluff started writing books, his post-doc adviser, Bernd Heinrich, was already an expert at the game. Heinrich has a reputation for being one of the most eloquent and engrossing natural history writers and it’s a reputation that’s been well earned. Mind of the Raven is actually what initially peaked my interest in corvids, so in many ways I have this book to thank for the work I am doing now. For anyone who lives with ravens, or simply has a fascination for them, I can’t recommend it enough. Bernd’s writing will nurture your passion and give you the science to back up what you already know: ravens are badass, awesome animals.
Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Crow Planet it a book best characterized by Haupt’s journey to find curiosity and loveliness in an increasingly urban landscape where the natural world can feel further and further away. Crows therefore, offered the perfect vehicle for looking at and appreciating what remains when the forests retreat and box stores and neighborhoods take their place. By the author’s own admission her journey through writing Crow Planet made Haupt appreciate, “but not quite love”, crows. Despite this, she manages to write about them with grace, and her stories will make even the biggest skeptic take another look at these animals. Although Haupt’s background is not in science, she doesn’t omit the scientific facts, though she does take more artistic liberty when describing their antics than John or Heinrich do. All that being said, this is an excellent book for the urban naturalist or crow watcher.
Crow by Boria Sax
If you’re interested in crow mythology this is the book for you. Sax takes you through time and space to explore the role of corvids in human myth, religion and art. His thoroughness is without compare, but if anthropology is not your interest this book will prove taxing. It’s one I happily keep on hand, but not one that I’ve ever had the patience to read all the way through. Nevertheless, I probably should, since it’s chalk full of information and historical context that I would be better off knowing.
Bird Brain: An exploration of avian intelligence by Nathan Emery
Although not exclusively dedicated to corvids, Bird Brain, written by corvid cognition expert Dr. Nathan Emery, offers an incredible look at the minds of your favorite birds. Although his book tackles some of the more difficult concepts of avian cognition, it feels and reads more like a coffee table book, complete with beautiful artwork, some of which was done by Emery himself. Each chapter is themed around a particular aspect of cognition (communication, spatial memory, etc.) and walks the reader through the fundamental biological principals and samples the most interesting studies that have been done on the topic. The book is rich with the kinds of analogies and descriptions that break through the barriers of dry scientific writing. Perfect for the budding young scientist or the long time corvid fan.
The wake of crows: Living and dying in shared worlds by Thom van Dooren
“Crows are among our most familiar and charismatic animals and as such there is a body of literature dedicated to them for which few other wildlife species compare. While each contributor takes a distinct perspective and harnesses different stories or features of their biology, there is perhaps nothing as unique in the body of work dedicated to crows as this book. It is neither a classic natural history book, nor a memoir of being connected to the natural world through crows. Instead, van Dooren has used crows as a loom on which to weave science and humanities together, producing a thesis of what it means to exist in our contemporary world. Central to this thesis is the question of “What else is possible?” For the traditional science and natural history reader his exploration of this seemingly familiar question will be anything but familiar. While by now, for example, we may be used to being asked to reconsider the crow as pest or bad omen, here we are asked to reconsider them systemically, and in ways that ultimately inform the reader’s ethic….It’s a unique and powerful look at what it means to live in a shared world, and asks that we reconsider our ethics in doing so. It is far from a light read, but it is one that grants the experience of expansion that curious people crave.”
This section is apart of a larger review I wrote of The wake of crows for a contribution has been accepted for publication and will appear in a revised form (subject to input from the journal’s editor) in a book review for Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.
I’m sure there are many others I haven’t read which subsequently didn’t make this list. Feel free to make recommendations in the comments section!