Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chatternag, chatterpie, haggister

At the Observer, Olivia Laing reviews Esther Woolfson's magical-sounding Corvus: A Life With Birds.

The Telegraph had a good excerpt the other week. Here's a bit I especially liked:
Magpies' nests are large, layered, well designed, executed with care against weather and predation. They can take longer to construct than many modern houses: weeks spent transporting twigs, mud, grass, forming them into deep, domed superstructures, lining the curved sides with feathers, sticks, hair, objets trouvés. Some are dome-roofed, accessible by side entrances, magpie cathedrals, magpie palaces; all, I like to imagine, fan vaulting, Romanesque arch and piano nobile.

In the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow there is a magpie's nest constructed, along with the usual assemblage of twigs and leaves, from metallic objects, old coat hangers, builders' waste, barbed wire, a glittering object of strange charm and beauty.

From my bedroom window I watch magpies, flying, criss-crossing, I believe, from one old tree to the other, over the steep Parisian-style mansard-roof of the house opposite, as members of two magpie families (clans, perhaps, Macdonalds and Campbells, Montagues and Capulets) or one extended family exchange visits, for what purpose, peaceable or otherwise, I do not know.


  1. Of course, I am already a fan of corvids, but if I were to borrow a word I would call this excerpt delightful!

  2. Very nice passage indeed.