RSPB Spotlight: Crows


Mike Unwin
RSPB, £12.99

The birds in the Corvidae family are highly intelligent, possess an excellent memory and have been shown to be capable of self awareness, appearing to engage in activities for fun. They have a generalist body structure and are the ultimate omnivores living in complex social groups, all of which have contributed to their worldwide success.

Covering the eight British breeding species and around 120 species worldwide, this book provides a comprehensive summary of the lives of these interesting birds. Initially providing general information on appearance, reproduction, range and feeding habits of the British species before summarising the evolutionary origins and taxonomy of the family and the worldwide distribution of the other corvid species on a continent-by-continent basis.

Avian body structure is explained and adaptations specific to corvids are highlighted and linked to the consequential benefits provided to these birds. Their success as generalists is also seen in their feeding niches, being scavengers in the main, eating vegetation, seeds, invertebrates or small mammals (although some species, such as jays and choughs, have more specialised feeding habits).

The habitat preferences and life cycles of these fascinating birds are described and there is some consideration of their migration patterns, or general lack of. This leads on to an examination of the breeding habits of these birds, before providing evidence to support the claim that these are intelligent species with complex communication abilities making them resourceful but also destructive and occasionally malevolent.

Corvids have long featured in myth and folklore, culture, literature and the arts and here there is a brief review of how corvids feature in our lives. Finally, there are brief sections on conservation as well as ways to simply enjoy the presence of these birds. This book is an informative read without heavy scientific data, but remains interesting making it appropriate for the generalist birder or budding corvid enthusiast.

Dr Alan Woollhead