Crow Country by Mark Cocker

Crow Country by Mark Cocker

Vintage Books, London, 2008

From my TBR pile.

Mark Cocker is not a biologist or any kind of scientist but he was introduced to the mysteries that are rooks at young age and has been fascinated by Corvids ever since.

One evening, near his home in Norfolk, England, he watched a massive, ear-shattering gathering of rooks and jackdaws on the way to their roost.  From that point on they became an obsession and he traveled the length of England in search of them, trying to find answers to why they gathered and where they choose to roost.  Interspersing his travels with poetry, historic journal entries and scientific research, he wanders his home territory, fascinated by these birds.

Cocker’s writing is poetic prose, layered with feeling and deep thought. It is the kind of “nature” writing that stops me, makes me really think about my own assumptions, about what I “know”.

You may ask, how could the rook have subverted my whole approach to birds?  The answer starts, like birding itself, with the business of identification.  You can’t proceed with an interest in ornithology unless you are able to identify the creatures you observe.  Identification itself hinges upon breaking down a bird into its constituent parts – the primaries, wings, tail, head, legs, etc.  Having deconstructed it into this detailed feathered map, one can then attach a specific name to the suite of observed features.  In a sense the issue of the rook’s flocking instinct was previously important to me only as a characteristic allowing me to recognize the bird.

I have come to recognize that even this exercise carries within it a subtle kind of complacency, a curious intellectual sleight of hand, because every time you pin a label on a living creature it reaffirms a sense of mastery over it.  The naming of the thing gives you the wonderfully reassuring illusion that you know it.  You don’t.  Sometimes all you have is a single datum.  The name.  In a bizarre way, the process of recognition can actually be a barrier rather than a doorway to genuine appreciation.  From page 39.

This is  nature writing at its best, filled with facts and history, featuring beings that have lived with and haunted humans for centuries.  It is also a reminder that the earth is not just ours.  It is a place  shared with a multitude of other creatures.  If we wish to lead full and joyful lives, we must value our connections to them


Filed under Birds, Corvids, Natural History, Review, Science, TBR Double Dare

15 responses to “Crow Country by Mark Cocker

  1. I want to read this

  2. I love the sound of this as we have a crow most days at the back of where I work I always been interested in the names round them a murder of crows such a strange word ,all the best stu

    • This is a wonderful book, Stu. I have always loved crows and collect books about them. Cocker mentions a parish of crows, first time I had heard that one.

  3. Sounds cool! Are corvids the ones that are super, super smart? Like dolphin smart? Or am I thinking of a different kind of birds?

  4. This sounds wonderful. I’m fascinated by crows, their intelligence and playfulness.

    • Crow Country is a wonderful book. It has me counting all the crows in my neighborhood. We have a flock that gathers by the ship canal in the fall, I watch them fly there from my back yard.

  5. I love it when someone’s passion comes out in their writing. I think I’ll add this to my reading list.

    • Cocker is definitely passionate about Rooks. I had to order this one from the Book Depository but it was worth it. It’s a keeper.

  6. It always interests me what people find fascinating and focus on in life. And when they can communicate that love in a book and share it with others, even better.

  7. I seem to remember jotting another corvid-themed-read onto my TBR list not too, too long ago; I should find that note and jot this one beside it. Ah, there it is, and I see you’ve read it as well: Crow Planet. Perfect reading companions?

  8. Am nearing the end of this book on a train and can’t stop putting it down and staring out the window with renewed wonder at how little in touch my generation is with nature, the world we think we rule (but clearly don’t) and everything outside out bubbles. This book is an awakening to so much more than the life of the corvids it describes so evocatively. Not just a good nature book, but a great book.

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