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by Stephen Moss ; illustrated by Nicole Heidaripour

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 2023
ISBN: 9781541604469

An exploration of the deep and complex relationship between birds and human beings.

Moss, a British nature writer, broadcaster, and environmentalist who has written more than 40 books and field guides, is an ideal guide to this in-depth look at 10 consequential species and the threats to their continued survival. Spoiler alert: The world-changing birds are the raven, pigeon, wild turkey, dodo, Darwin's finch, guanay cormorant, snowy egret, bald eagle, tree sparrow, and emperor penguin. The contributions of some of these birds are immediately apparent—e.g., carrier pigeons could bring messages from the front lines of battles and wars, changing the course of the conflicts. The historical roles of other birds are more obscure. The snowy egret, prized for its long, feathery aigrettes, was driven to the brink of extinction by the plumage trade, but this led to the first bird protection laws. Moss is good at sorting out the myths from the realities of these birds' places in history. Darwin's finches, for example, were not actually the inspiration for his theory of evolution by natural selection but are still one of the best demonstrations of its veracity. The author also takes note of the prominent places these birds hold in mythology and literature, such as Poe's "The Raven,” but his larger theme is the threat of extinction that hovers over so many species today. As such, the centerpiece of his avian collection is the dodo, which has transitioned from a real bird to “the global icon of extinction." Its disappearance 300 years ago first suggested to the Western mind that a species could go extinct. The author’s thorough and well-argued book brings urgent attention to all the species that now face oblivion due to the global climate crisis. Heidaripour's illustrations complement the engaging, sobering analysis.

Take a fascinating flight into human history on the wings of 10 important bird species.