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“Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding” is anything brief, despite what the unassuming title (or cover art) might suggest.
Author, naturalist and ornithologist Scott Weidensaul might just be one of the best writers on birds – okay, one of the best writers period – that I have ever had the pleasure to read.
As you can see, Pearl agrees.
I don’t know exactly how my opinion of the first birders, or bird-watchers, depending on who you ask and how scientific they intend to be, arose, but it only took a few pages for me to realize that it bore no resemblance to reality.
I guess I never really stopped to think how all those early studious bird observers got close enough to sketch each individual feather in such detail…..
Not to mention that watching birds was then, and continues to be to this day, a male-dominated, um, sport. Of course, since I only watch one bird on a regular basis and these dudes watched (watch) hundreds, sometimes thousands, during their lifetimes, maybe that does make some sense after all….
Watching one bird thoroughly is surely just as important as studying migratory patterns, feeding and mating habits, breeding cycles, etc of thousands. Maybe we females are just better at the single-bird-study sort of thing. 🙂
Anyway, early ornithologists were a scurrilous lot. I wouldn’t want to meet many of the characters Weidensaul sketched in such intimate detail in a dark alley, or even on my front porch. And I DEFINITELY wouldn’t let them within five (500) feet of my bird.
Having said that, treat yourself to “Of a Feather”. This treasure of a book is a joy to read. And I promise it will, er, fly by much faster than its 314 pages of text might suggest.
You can learn more about the author and the book HERE