Bookworthy Birds

Two forthcoming natural history titles feature birds and best practices for humans to interact with them. 

Moss, Stephen. 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.—David R. Conn

Yellowstone’s Birds: Diversity and Abundance in the World’s First National Park. Princeton Univ. Oct. 2023. 304p. ed. by Douglas W. Smith & others. ISBN 9780691217833. $35. NAT HIST

Yellowstone’s “geothermal wonders and charismatic megafauna” take a backseat to the birds in this pioneering, overdue study. It is not a field guide but a report of what is known (and unknown) about the park’s avian life. With multiple contributors, the text’s style is varied and the topics many—ideal for those inclined to explore the book in snippets, to wander, and to wonder. Illustrations, photographs, and links to accompanying videos are superb and ably support the authors’ goal of making their science accessible. The book also describes what fieldwork in remote areas involves and how citizen scientists support the effort. Preliminary chapters discuss Yellowstone’s geology and offer tips on birding etiquette, checklists, descriptions of trails, and likely observations. The birds—peregrine falcons, golden eagles, trumpeter swans, harlequin ducks, ravens, Clark’s nutcrackers, and more remarkable creatures—are considered in terms of life history, conservation status, research projects, and more. Among the book’s many delights are its anecdotal pieces. For example, wildlife biologist-cum-birder Kira Cassidy recounts “The Year I Lost My Birding Mind.” VERDICT Revelatory. The birds, the park, but also the science behind it make this book an outstanding resource.—Robert Eagan

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