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Though by no means comprehensive, the book does present a good introduction to many topics in ornithology and birding including molt, distribution, and even terms such as sympatric and allopatric (where similar birds have overlapping and non-overlapping ranges, respectively). Each consists of a one-page introduction, then a myriad of pictures, and their accompanying captions. Sometimes I had to re-read sections because at first I didn’t understand what was being said (which, honestly, could be a failing on my part rather than the writing).
The photos and captions work together to illustrate and describe aspects of a bird’s life and biology. There are standard, full-body profile shots of some species, and close-up portraits of others.
In one photo, an African Harrier-hawk is shown perched on the side of a tree trunk with its wings and tail spread out. However, the errors and misconceptions in the text give me pause, and make me wonder if there are other problems that I didn’t catch. And even though I would not recommend this book based on the text alone, there is some interesting stuff here and everyone can learn something from it. For instance, the Feeding section shows birds with different types of bills, and the captions describe how each particular form is suited to obtaining specific food. Among them are some of the most artistic and exquisite bird photographs that I’ve ever seen, such as the Little Blue Heron on page 87 and the Great Egret on 154-5, where the lighting and composition are used to brilliant effect. Without any explanation, anyone unfamiliar with these birds would assume that the photographer captured the raptor in a peculiar situation.


The author claims that the reason birds sing more in the morning is because once their mates wake up they are too busy making sure they don’t “cheat” on them with other males. But then I consider the cases where the images and words work together magnificently, such as a head-on shot of a Whooper Swan about to land.
The majority of the birds here are from Europe and North America, with some African and Antarctic subjects as well. However, the caption explains that this is how the bird forages – climbing trees with its tail and wings spread for balance. That may indeed be the case for some birds, but as far as I know, the prevailing theory is that early morning offers the best acoustics for sound, and thus that is when birds sing the most.
Perhaps the most spectacular capture a “frozen moment” view, such as the Long-tailed Duck running across water trying to get airborne, with drops of water like jewels suspended mid-air. Also, one caption suggests that all birds have two sets of plumage, including a nuptial one. In the midst of all the action, the viewer may overlook small feathers curled upward at the wrist joints of the wings. Additionally, we learn that unlike other shorebirds, oystercatchers have to feed their chicks since the chicks are not yet able to open the shells of their preferred food, mollusks.
However, plenty of birds, such as the Northern Cardinal, molt only once a year as adults and look the same throughout the year.
But the caption calls attention to these feathers, the alula, and explains how these small feathers play an integral role in the aerodynamics of flight.


While verifying this statement I found that not only is this so, but oystercatchers are the only birds in the world that have fully mobile (precocious) chicks, and yet the parents provide all their food until well after fledging.
Additionally, the text states that only juveniles grow all the feathers in a given tract simultaneously. This synthesis of words and image work together to teach this subject so much better than any regular ornithological text could. That is true for most birds, but some ducks and most auks will molt all of their flight feathers at once.
For these birds, the loss of even one or two primaries would make it difficult or impossible for them to fly. Thus, instead of the normal protracted molting of the wing feathers they do them all at once in order to minimize the time that they are flightless.
Finally, even though it is somewhat ambiguous which birds can be considered “birds of prey”, it is generally assumed to include at least hawks, eagles, falcons, and their close relatives, and owls. This book, though, specifically excludes owls from this group, which could easily confuse some readers.



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