Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
Publication Year: 2020
Page Count: 192
ISBN Number: 9780691208961
Price: £ 19.99
The Gull Next Door: A Portrait of a Misunderstood Bird
Early on in The Gull Next Door, author Marianne Taylor declares that she is “not a true, hardcore larophile”. Don’t be deceived though – she clearly knows her stuff about gulls, and her deep affection for these birds is apparent throughout this entertaining and expansive book. The Gull Next Door uses the author’s own experiences as jumping off points to cover everything from gull evolution and physiology to the biodiversity crisis. We begin in Hastings, with the author rescuing rooftop-nesting Herring Gulls in her childhood home. Later on, we find out about the gulls she’s encountered at many other stages of her life. These accounts give the book a deeply personal feel, which is amplified by the author’s own illustrations found throughout the chapters. These really capture the character the species concerned and convey the extent to which the author must have watched and studied each.
The book is made up of a prologue, followed by eight chapters. It kicks off with a look at ‘Britain’s Gulls’, where we are given a brief introduction to each of the species that breed in Britain, apart from the Herring Gull. As the author’s favourite gull, this species later has a chapter devoted to it alone. The other chapters mostly consider the relationships between people and gulls, with a look at gulls in global folklore and modern culture, how gulls have been persecuted across the years and the threats they face now, and tips for living alongside them.
Although the author is clearly enamoured by gulls, she doesn’t shy away from their less becoming characteristics. However, any unpleasant details are balanced by the comprehensive information she gives on the more redeeming and fascinating aspects of gull behaviour, ecology and physiology, and overall, the author’s love and admiration for gulls is infectious, as is her fear for them. The general style of the book is conversational and humorous. There is the occasional slip in the accuracy of some of the details, but such mistakes are only minor and shouldn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the book or the author’s accomplishment in bringing so much information together in such an appealing way.
The book ends with a rallying cry to protect the natural world. The author draws parallels between human attitudes towards gulls and those towards other species that have become locally extinct thanks to their tendency to impinge on human spaces and lifestyles. She suggests that familiarity (with gulls living in urban spaces) can breed admiration, and help keep humans in touch with the natural world on which we depend, giving us cause to protect it. The book’s postscript, written just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold, and heavily referencing the climate crisis, says “we are going to need our wildlife to help get us out of this mess”. As a larophile myself, I hope Marianne Taylor’s book challenges and changes the perceptions of some readers to gulls and other ‘undesirable animals’, and if that is part of a broader shift towards improving the lot of gulls and seabirds in general, then I’d be delighted. Either way, I admire the author’s ambition, and recommend her book.
Book reviewed by Viola Ross-Smithbuy this book
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