Sunday, July 03, 2016

“Beaks, Bones & Bird Songs”

Roger Lederer, Chico’s own birder extraordinaire, is a scientist-observer who knows “it’s not easy being a bird.” “Of the many hours I have spent in the field, watching birds flying, feeding, resting, and nesting, I was most affected by those moments when I saw birds searching for food in blowing snow, sitting on the surface of an ocean fighting threatening waves, and flying in serious winds. I wondered: how do birds make it from hatching to adulthood?”

His answer is a book which gracefully mingles his own experiences around the world with what is known about birds (and what still remains a mystery). “Beaks, Bones & Bird Songs” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is subtitled “How The Struggle For Survival Has Shaped Birds And Their Behavior” (more at Lederer’s

“Evolution,” he writes, “is a superb sculptor. Over hundreds of millions of years the machinery of natural selection has honed birds to pinnacles of near perfection, having discarded tens of thousands of species along the way that could not meet the challenges of the ever-changing earth.”

The ten thousand or so living bird species offer a welter of adaptive strategies. In seven chapters, Lederer considers foraging, bird sensory abilities, flight and feathers, migration, surviving in weather extremes, how and why birds flock together, and, finally, the influence of humans.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the physical environment began to change at a much faster pace, leaving many birds behind. … Cities like Beijing and New Delhi are virtually devoid of avian life. …” Birdwatching, Lederer says, helps people “understand why birds need protection from human activities.”

Humans can help, even in small ways, such as installing windows “at an angle with the bottom of the glass further back than the top. This simultaneously minimizes the force of the impact as the bird doesn’t hit the glass straight on and the ledge formed at the bottom of the window provides a place for a stunned bird to recover.” 

Dozens of black and white photographs enhance the book, while every page offers insights into why birds do what they do, in their struggles and, yes, their nobility.

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