Ten Birds That Changed the World

Basic: Perseus. Sept. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9781541604469. $30. NAT HIST
Prolific British nature writer/environmentalist/broadcaster/producer Moss (Dynasties: Painted Wolves) highlights 10 bird species that he says have changed human history. Noting each type of bird’s relationship to people, the book says that many species around the world are in decline. Ravens are described as scavengers that are viewed as enigmatic messengers. Pigeons (doves) have long been domesticated for food and carrying messages or contraband; guano from cormorants was the first industrial-scale fertilizer. Intensive poultry rearing brings up the issue of avian suffering and abuse. The dodo of Mauritius has become an icon of extinction, killed off by the effects of European settlement; many other flightless bird species are endangered, but there are only belated human efforts to eradicate invasive rats and mice on that threaten them; the massacre of snowy egrets was the result of a fashion trend for plumage. Bald eagles were widely shot for being livestock predators, then decimated by DDT exposure. Today, melting sea ice poses a threat to emperor penguins, unless more people are willing to seriously counter climate change. Illustrated with engravings.
VERDICT This well-crafted book expertly highlights global societies’ treatment of birds, and it’s not a flattering story.
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