Book Reviews: December 2011

Avian Architecture

How birds design, engineer, and build
By Peter Goodfellow

Great Hornbills nest in large, hollow spaces in trees in India. But being such a large bird, the nest must also be large, making it accessible to predators. So the female, once ensconced inside, seals herself in with a barrier of mud leaving just a small hole through which the male will pass her food. 

Like our own houses, nests come in an amazing variety of styles, sizes, designs and locations. In the pages of Avian Architecture readers have a beautiful and informative introduction to all forms of avian nest-building. Chapters are arranged by nest-type (e.g. platform, cup-shaped, mound, bowers) and include blueprints, description of materials and features, case studies and gorgeous illustrations and color photography. Goodfellow describes how a mound nest, like those favored by flamingos, is formed by both the male and female scraping and rolling mud into form. We learn that the edible-nest swiftlet uses only its saliva to create a nest which is the chief ingredient in the delicacy bird's-nest soup. Step-by-step drawings illustrate how an oriole might weave a complex series of knots and stitches to create their small hanging baskets.  

Ornithologists, nature lovers and architectural buffs all will love learning more about these amazing structures and revel in the variety and complexity of nests found in this book.

Princeton University Press |
ISBN13:978-0-691-1489-6 | $27.95

Arctic Autumn
A journey to the season's edge
by Pete Dunne

Pete Dunne's writing is always entertaining, so in that sense Arctic Autumn is the kind of book you'd expect from him. But his storytelling reaches another dimension in this one. He paints a vivid word picture of the barrens of Nunavut in the High Arctic, the threatened but still majestic Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba, and the stark wilderness of Alaska. He tells of how a single word, "Fish" uttered by his Eskimo guide, Matthias, together with a hand gesture, comprises an entire conversation instantly and easily understood by an attentive companion.

Whether hunting caribou, discussing the differences between the natives' former nomadic way of life vs today's enforced government-supplied housing in government-built villages, or examining the balance between the needs of molting Geese and our own thirst for oil, his writing carries a message we all need to hear. The bone-chilling cold and the smothering blanket of black flies become real, and the reader is left feeling as if he has been there, endured the hardships and been captivated by the tranquility.  
It's a wonderful read, and certainly deserving of space on everyone's bookshelf.