Monday, October 1, 2007

Birds of a Feather

I just finished reading a great book; one I'd highly recommend. It is Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding, by Scott Weidensaul. No laboring your way through this one, it is one of the most readable books I've picked up for some time. Scott is an outstanding writer by any measure, and in the natural history department, there may be no one better at putting pen to paper right now.

Scott is an extraordinary researcher and naturalist, and this book is absolutely full of the fine detail that lets the reader know he didn't just whip the book out on a whim; serious study went into all of the varied elements that are incorporated within. In an eggshell, Wiedensaul traces the history of ornithology on this continent, beginning with the rough and tumble frontier days of Wilson and Audubon. If you think nasty politics is a modern invention, read about the Wilsonians and their vitriole directed towards good ole John James Audubon.

He takes us on a journey that nearly all birders should relate to, right up to the modern era of hardcore listing and some of the characters involved. Along the way is a who's who roster of significant figures in American ornitho-birding, many of whom you'll recognize. I especially enjoyed Scott's way of discussing and addressing the relationship of birders to science, and to conservation.

It's the latter - birders and conservation - that caused us to invite him here to Ohio to be the keynote address to the Ohio Ornithological Society and The Nature Conservancy's Bird Conservation Conference on December 1st. In the book's last chapter, Beyond the List, Scott offers a deep perspective on this subject, and one that I was personally delighted to read. While many of us would really like to see birders become a more organized and involved part of conservation, that hasn't really happened yet. Anyone, from the person chasing a Green-breasted Mango in Wisconsin to someone studying molt in Semipalmated Sandpipers along Lake Erie to the homeowner admiring the Carolina Chickadees visiting their feeder, should become involved in looking at how to protect birds and their habitat.

Scott's talk at the conference is sure to be thought-provoking, and if you read this book and especially the final chapter, I think that you'll agree. I hope that you can make it on December 1st, and support birding in Ohio and beyond.
Scott in the field, here holding a Violet-crowned Hummingbird in Arizona. A longtime bander, Scott specializes in hummingbirds and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

1 comment:

Jen A. Miller said...

I just reviewed Scott's book (from the slightly non-expert point of view) at

I liked it, even though I'm not a birder. I learned a lot.