Review: The Bird Watching Answer Book

Review: The Bird Watching Answer Book,
Laura Erickson, Storey Publishing, 2009

It is the season for weddings. Our friends’ children. Nieces and nephews. Cousins. Since we attribute the success of our own marriage, in large part, to good food and long conversations at the dinner table, a gift that we give to all new couples is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s a kind of hip Joy of Cooking which gives cooks, new and experienced, knowledge enough to create meals worth lingering over.

Since we attribute another portion of our marital success to the countless hours we spend birding together, we are convinced that time afield contributes palpably to the quality of people’s lives. We have thus added Laura Erickson’s The Bird Watching Answer Book to our gift list for our birding friends.

As How to Cook Everything is a hip Joy of Cooking, The Bird Watching Answer Book is a hip “ornithology for liberal arts majors.” Read it and become a more astute, more observant birder and a more interesting birding partner. As a frequent leader of bird walks and an Audubon staff member I get countless questions about birds. “How far do they migrate?” “Does feeding birds retard migration?” “Do starlings poop on red cars more than others?” “Can you tell me the name of this bird on my balcony” (with an attached cell phone camera photo)? “What does this bird eat?” “Why do mockingbirds sing all night during the summer?” Etc., etc.. Some of them are really good questions, and I have learned a lot by researching the answers. Fortunately, I have access to colleagues in Audubon’s science department and lots of very good birders to help me with answers. Now I also have Erickson’s Bird Watching Answer Book. The format is so friendly and the text so accessible that it feels a bit like reading the Classic Comic in lieu of the assigned novel, although I hasten to point out that while the style is light, the content has real authority.

As a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and an author, Erickson routinely fields many more questions than I do. Fortunately for us she has collected many of the most interesting ones along with her answers into this entertaining, useful, and informative book which covers topics from conservation, behavior, bird watching, migration, birds and the environment, and biology. This is one that all bird watchers (from beginner to serious) will want in their libraries. Read it in big gulps or leave it on your night stand to browse through, but do read it!

Wayne Mones
December 31, 2010

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