Book News

Cuckoo Cheating by NatureCuckoo: Cheating by Nature
by Nick Davies

From Bloomsbury:

The familiar call of the common cuckoo, ‘cuck-oo,’ has been a harbinger of spring ever since our ancestors walked out of Africa many thousands of years ago. However, for naturalist and scientist Nick Davies, the call is an invitation to solve an enduring puzzle: how does the cuckoo get away with laying its eggs in the nests of other birds and tricking them into raising young cuckoos rather than their own offspring?

Early observers who noticed a little warbler feeding a monstrously large cuckoo chick concluded the cuckoo’s lack of parental care was the result of faulty design by the Creator, and that the hosts chose to help the poor cuckoo. These quaint views of bad design and benevolence were banished after Charles Darwin proposed that the cuckoo tricks the hosts in an evolutionary battle, where hosts evolve better defenses against cuckoos and cuckoos, in turn, evolve better trickery to outwit the hosts.

For the last three decades, Davies has employed observation and field experiments to unravel the details of this evolutionary ‘arms race’ between cuckoos and their hosts. Like a detective, Davies and his colleagues studied adult cuckoo behavior, cuckoo egg markings, and cuckoo chick begging calls to discover exactly how cuckoos trick their hosts. For birding and evolution aficionados, Cuckoo is a lyrical and scientifically satisfying exploration of one of nature’s most astonishing and beautiful adaptations.

 

While I’m sure that pretty much everyone is aware of the cuckoo’s habit of nest parasitism, I’m sure there’s much more to the story. I must admit that I don’t know all that much about these birds, but am looking forward to reading this book to rectify that.

 

Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature
by Nick Davies
Hardcover; 320 pages
Bloomsbury; April 7, 2015
ISBN: 978-1620409527
$27.00

The MerlinThe Merlin
by Richard Sale

From Snowfinch Publishing:

The Merlin is a fascinating small falcon, standing outside the usual grouping of the ‘True Falcons’, and with a range that is confined to northern climes, an exclusive preference that is shared by only one other, the much larger Gyrfalcon.

This is the first comprehensive book on the species, covering its complete circumpolar range. The book starts with a general comments on the evolution of the True Falcons and thoughts on their grouping, then covers the general characteristics of the Merlin, the species’ habitat, its diet, breeding (territory, displays, pair formation, nest sites, eggs, chick growth, nest predation and breeding success), migration and wintering, survival, the Merlin’s friend and foes, and estimations of the world population. It also includes data gathered with a unit flown on a male Merlin.

Previous books by the author include the award-winning Gyrfalcon (co-produced with Russian expert Eugene Potapov), the Snowy Owl (also with Eugene Potapov), the first field guide to birds and mammals of the Arctic, A Complete Guide to Arctic Wildlife, and The Arctic: The Complete Story which covered all aspects of the area.

 

An in-depth, photograph-rich look at this small falcon.

 

The Merlin
by Richard Sale
Hardcover; 304 pages
Snowfinch Publishing; March, 2015
ISBN: 9780957173217
$65.00

You Nest Here With MeYou Nest Here With Me
by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

From Boyds Mills Press:

With rhyming text, this soothing bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and sleepy children home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes to her child how many species of birds nest, from pigeons on concrete ledges to owls in oak tree boles to swallows above barn doors. The soothing refrain of “you nest here with me” eases her little one and readers alike to slumber. Combining their poetic writing and their love of birding, mother and daughter Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple have written what is sure to become a bedtime classic.

 

My five-year-old really enjoyed this book. It also has an afterword that gives additional information on the included birds.

 

You Nest Here With Me
by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Hardcover; 40 pages
Boyds Mills Press; March 3, 2015
ISBN: 978-1590789230
$16.95

The Great Horned Owl: An In-depth Study, by Scott RashidThe Great Horned Owl: An In-depth Study
by Scott Rashid

From Schiffer Publishing:

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl found throughout most of North America. Adult owls are between eighteen to 24 inches from head to tail and can have a wing span of more than four feet. Their long ear tufts and cryptic coloration enables them to remain well hidden during the day, often out of sight of sharp-eyed diurnal raptors and eagle-eyed birders. Through more than 130 photographs and illustrations, take an in-depth look into the life of this very impressive and formidable bird. Explore the owls food habits, nesting sites, how they raise their young, and the rehabilitation of injured owls. The one-of-a-kind photographs and comprehensive descriptions make this a must-have treasure to be enjoyed by all ages. It is sure to become the go-to reference on the Great Horned Owl.

 

You’ve got to respect a bird like the Great Horned. This book looks like a great study on these awesome birds.

 

The Great Horned Owl: An In-depth Study
by Scott Rashid
Hardcover; 112 pages
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.; March 9, 2015
ISBN: 978-0764347665
$34.99

H is for HawkH is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald

From Grove Press:

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

 

I recently saw this book on the bestsellers shelf in an airport newsstand. That has to be the first time I’ve seen a bird book there! But with all the great press about this book, I’m not surprised. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

 

H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
Hardcover; 288 pages
Grove Press; March 3, 2015
ISBN: 978-0802123411
$26.00

It’s still early in the year (although, somehow, almost a quarter of it is now over!), but several great-looking bird books have been announced for 2015. Here are a few to look forward to.

Here’s some great news for anyone who bought the second edition of The Sibley Guide when it was first published, only to be disappointed by color reproduction and type readability (more details in my Initial Review). The publisher, Knopf (a division of Random House), is offering a free replacement with the much improved second printing:

If you bought the 1st printing of Sibley’s 2d edition, Random House will send you the vastly improved 2d printing if you call them at (800) 793-2665 (during business hours). There will be a number to press to get details on the replacement. In order to get a replacement, you will have to cut off the UPC from the 1st printing and mail it to them at:

Penguin Random House
Attn: Consumer Services/DMF
400 Hahn Rd.
Westminster, MD 21157

This is a very classy move by the publisher. Thanks Knopf! And thanks to Dalcio on BirdForum for calling attention to this.

This issue has gone through several stages, from the initial excitement about the program and success of some people, to subsequent denials from the publisher, to finally what seems like an official program as outlined above.

Update 2/4/2015: People have been reporting various degrees of success after calling the publisher. After giving their contact info, some have been told that a replacement will be sent to them, others that they will be contacted later. Some have been told that only copies bought directly from the publisher will be replaced, and all others should seek to exchange it from wherever they originally purchased it. And then others were told that this is for real and they will get a replacement (and were even given a confirmation number).

Basically, no one is sure what the real situation is. It’s quite possible that there is no official replacement program. At this time, the best thing to do is call the publisher and hope this is for real.

Update 2/5/2015: There are still inconsistent messages coming from the publisher. However, several people have reported success in getting returns authorized from Amazon. If you got the 1st printing from Amazon, I’d suggest contacting them and letting them know it was defective and that a new printing has been done to correct it. They should send you a replacement, even if it’s beyond the normal 30-day return window. Some have been told they will NOT have to return the original item, but others were told they’d get a shipping label to return it. If they say you don’t have to return it, I would suggest keeping that correspondence, just in case.

Update 2/6/2015: It seems that Random House has set their official policy – unfortunately, it’s that free replacements are no longer being offered (see the comments for some communications from the publisher). I’m glad that some people did get their copy of the 2nd printing, though. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest contacting the publisher anyway – they are taking down contact information and maybe, just maybe, they will continue sending out replacements.

Update 2/18/2015: The details above have been updated. The publisher has added an option to their automated system when you call them to provide details on how to get a replacement copy. It seems this is now official.

The Birds' WeddingThe Birds’ Wedding
by Bryna Hellmann and Leslie Browne

This is two books inside one cover. The story of The Birds’ Wedding is for reading aloud – perhaps at bedtime, since it ends with “Good Night!”. It’s a fantasy, of course, but even though the wedding guests are wearing hats and playing musical instruments, they look the way they do in real life.

The second part, Looking at Birds, is about lots of other birds, how they look, sing and make their nests, what they eat, where they live and what we call them. This part is for children who can read for themselves and for parents who want to answer their kids’ questions. We hope it’s fun to read and will encourage children to look for the birds where they live, recognize them, know their names and care about their well-being.

Because we “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”, we’re responsible for the well-being of all the living creatures we share our planet with. We depend on them as much as they depend on us. A world without birds would be a sad place.

 

This is a cute, short story for kids about a bird wedding. It’s illustrated with some beautifully distinctive drawings. The second part is an overview of birds with a plea for conservation.

You can buy this book by emailing the author at brynah@xs4all.nl. The cost is $25, which includes shipping to the US.

 

The Birds’ Wedding
by Bryna Hellmann and Leslie Browne
Paperback; 46 pages
Calbona Publishing; July, 2014
$25.00

When the second edition of The Sibley Guide was published earlier this year, there were clearly some issues with it. The most serious of those was color reproduction on some plates and a light text font that could make it hard to read. But a recently released second printing has corrected those issues. The text is darker, making it easier to read now. The colors also look much better. The most often cited offender was the male Scarlet Tanager, which was clearly not “brilliant red”, as the text notes. The second printing is clearly redder, although not quite as much as it had been in the first edition.

Scarlet Tanager comparison between Sibley Guides

Scarlet Tanager in The Sibley Guides: 1st edition on left; 2nd edition, 1st printing center; 2nd edition, 2nd printing right

So if you’ve held off getting this new Sibley Guide, it’s now safe to buy. The 2nd printings can be identified by locating the text “Second printing, July 2014″ on the page after the title page. I haven’t yet seen the new ones in a store, but you can get one now from Buteo Books.

The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Second Edition)The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Second Edition)
by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean

From Cornell University Press:

This is the one compact, portable, and user-friendly field guide the novice or experienced birder needs to identify birds in the field in the diverse habitats found in Costa Rica. It features descriptions and illustrations of all 903 species definitely known from Costa Rica, including pelagics and species regular to Cocos Island. Fifty-six of these species are placed in a “Rarities” section that includes accidentals, rarer pelagics, and species that have not been reported in more than twenty years.

The detailed full-color illustrations show identifying features—including plumage differences among males, females, and juveniles—and views of birds in flight wherever pertinent. Robert Dean has supplied more than 360 new illustrations, including sixty-four species that are illustrated for the first time in this edition. These include recent additions to the country list, pelagic species, Cocos Island species, and all accidentals recorded from the Costa Rican mainland. Range maps and nomenclature have been updated for this edition, which also has a new user-friendly organizational scheme and an alphabetical quick-find index of groups on the inside back cover.

 

This is the best field guide available for this wonderfully birdy country.

 

The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Second Edition)
by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
Paperback; 440 pages
Comstock Publishing Associates (imprint of Cornell University Press); December 4, 2014
ISBN: 978-0801479885
$29.95