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Birdpedia (cover)

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2021

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 272

ISBN Number: 9780691209661

Price: £ 9.99

Birdpedia: A Brief Compendium of Avian Lore

Birdpedia is an eclectic and entertaining read. It follows an A–Z format, taking the reader from ‘Abundance’ to ‘Zugenruhe’. Along the way, we learn about everything from ornithological pioneers and poetry, to bird evolution, physiology, taxonomy, behaviour, the many threats that have faced birds in the past and those they continue to face today.

The style is conversational, with a good dose of humour. Readers will find sections on ‘Air Conditioning (Do Birds Sweat?)’ and ‘Jizz (Not What You’re Thinking)’, and if you’ve ever wanted to know the answer to questions like whether birds fart, then this is the book for you! There are several quirky ideas that stuck in my mind, like the author’s suggestion that the Pliocene would be the best time in the planet’s past for a birder to visit if time machines should ever be invented, with up to 150,000 potential ticks! These more off-the-cuff excepts are balanced by serious and academic entries, and this book is packed full of information, presented in a wonderfully accessible way.

As the author is American, it’s unsurprising that book feels US-centric. The units given for facts like the largest birds are all imperial in the first instance, many of the ornithologists mentioned worked on the other side of the Atlantic, and the sections on folklore similarly focus on that region (all 60-odd colloquial names for the Ruddy Duck are listed in one chapter, for example). However, that does not give it a parochial feel, and the book should appeal to people interested in birds no matter where they happen to live.

The book itself is pocket-sized, should you ever wish to carry it around and dip in and out of the fantastic facts contained in its pages. Its words are complemented by charming sketches by Abby McBride, which further broaden its appeal. If you’re looking for a light-hearted yet informative Christmas present for a bird-loving friend or family member this year, then you won’t go too far wrong with Birdpedia.

Book reviewed by Viola Ross-Smith

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