Another book that I wanted to really like, but it was just a tad lackluster. I agree with quite a few other reviewers who said this book had a stiff or dry writing style and sometimes went into uninteresting details. I’m not the only one who found it very slow to get through- most nights I could only manage a chaper, or even half that, before getting tired and loosing focus. However I don’t agree with the complaints that the author’s descriptions of scientific experiments were out-of-place, for a book that claims to be about enjoying and appreciating common birds. (Just lightly ignore the implications of the subtitle, if you will). Personally, I find the experiments- both their execution, all the reasons for doing things in said ways, and the results- fascinating.
The book is divided into chapters, each about one of sixteen birds commonly seen around the author’s home in Missouri: American robin, house wren, dark-eyed junco, snow goose, cooper’s hawk, blue jay, European starling, white-throated sparrow, American coot, cedar waxwing, great egret, northern flicker, northern mockingbird, yellow-rumped warbler, house sparrow and northern cardinal. These chapters are interspersed with shorter ones that describe specific locations where the author viewed the birds (the less interesting details, in my opinion). The bird chapters are full of personal writing about what the author observed about each bird, what she likes (or doesn’t) about it, what she suggests the reader look for if you observe the same bird yourself (or similar species), and best of all, what very interesting questions researchers have asked about these common birds, what they did to find out the answers and what they learned.
Things like: how exactly do robins find worms in the ground? why are there two colors of white-throated sparrows (and most mated pairs are with the opposite color morph)? how have snow geese become so prolific when they are riddled with disease caused by overcrowding and eating out their food sources? why are egret chicks so vicious towards their younger siblings? do coots really recognize if a chick in the nest isn’t their own, and how (lots of birds lay eggs in another’s nest it turns out, not just cowbirds and cuckoos). What birds eat and where they find it, aggression between dominant and subordinate birds in a flock, cheating on the side by songbird mates, the complexity and variety of mockingbird song (and its purpose), and so many more things are explored, in far greater depth than I can hint at here. It’s a great book, just a bit difficult to get through and I can’t quite put my finger on why the writing felt tiresome at times. It could just be me.
I did appreciate the main message of the book: instead of travelling all over the world, checking birds off a list after barely glimpsing it, maybe take a different approach and more carefully study the birds that are close by. Learn about them more in depth. Certainly reading this kind of information about them, is far more engaging to me than books about a serious lister!
Similar read: Beyond the Birdfeeder. Borrowed from the public library.
I agree with that message! All my previous homes before this one let me watch the local birds every day, year round. I really appreciated that. This one is very lacking in birds, sadly. I miss them.