Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Life of Birds

The Life of Birds
© 1998 Sir David Attenborough
320 pages



As I drove home from the library last week, I watched a beautiful white bird soar above the highway for several minutes. As it passed close by overhead, I thought to myself that the swan looked fatigued and wondered why it did not stop to rest along side the road.  A few days later, I read in this that swans are such large and ungainly birds that they cannot easily land: if they attempt to taper off their speed, they lose momentum completely and plummet awkwardly to the earth. Their most effective recourse is to crash-land  into water.


 I’ve been enjoying David Attenborough’s series of books based on his nature documentaries, and The Life of Birds continues that pattern. Life of Birds has more substance than the previous works in this series, but retains the same essential approach. After a chapter on the evolution of birds and flight, Attenborough dedicates separate chapters to feeding, communication, mating, nesting, parenting, and adaptation. The last chapter focuses on how birds have adjusted to living inside human cities. Pictures are abundant, if not as ubiquitous as in previous works, and are impressively beautiful and grotesque.

As always, if you are fascinated by the natural world you'll enjoy this book, for it abounds in interesting and often awe-inducing information.

The Quetzal bird, giving new meaning to the significance of Quetzalcoatl. 

Some birds swallow snakes whole, then return to their nest and try to throw them up -- whole. Usually the head or tail of the snake will emerge first, and the chicks will grab hold of it...and tug it out of their parent's stomach. 

And speaking of chicks: this is a cuckoo hatchling, demonstrating why if there is a sentient being that designed the laws of nature, it's a sadistic SOB. Cuckoo females plant their eggs in the nest of other birds. The cuckoo egg hatches first, then casually throws the other eggs out of the nest. The nest-mother, not knowing this chick isn't her own, dedicates her time and energy to feeding the intruder.






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