Songs of Love and War: the Dark Heart of Bird Behaviour

Songs of Love and War: the Dark Heart of Bird Behaviour
Dominic Couzens
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Page Count:  256
ISBN Number:  9781472909916

The latest book from Dominic Couzens promises to enthrall the reader with tales of the ‘dark heart’ underlying the every-day behaviours performed by birds. In the most part it did not disappoint, providing insight into activities such as the dawn chorus, migration, and sexual selection. Each chapter covered one aspect of the life of birds and, by drawing on various scientific studies, attempted to explain why such behaviours exist. Being an area of constantly evolving research the book cannot hope to give definitive answers, nor does it aim to, but it does give a good overview of current research whilst keeping an engaging narrative style.

The dawn chorus chapter was a particular highlight for me, with birds introduced in the order in which they sing, along with accompanying background information and possible explanations for their positions in the running order of this wonderful morning show. I read the chapter with a bird-song CD playing in the background, which really helped bring the descriptions alive, as did the references to birds in music and literature, with accompanying excerpts from poetry and prose.

The content of the book could lend itself to an over-anthropomorphic style and, whilst the perceived feelings of the birds were sometimes touched on, this was largely avoided by the author. In places, the book could have benefitted from closer attention in the editorial process, as occasional errors detracted slightly from the narrative.

This is a delightful book for birders or anyone who has enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching Robins in their garden, marvelled at the long, delicate tails of Swallows, or simply wondered why birds sing. You will probably never look at Dunnocks in the same way after reading this!

Henrietta Pringle