City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places is a collection of short essays by many familiar nature writers and birders: Kenn Kaufman, Julie Zickefoose, Paul Kerlinger, Clay Sutton, and Paul Johnsgard are some of the authors. All share a story about their experiences with birds in primarily urban settings.
Most people like to bird in wild, exotic, or at least away-from-home locations. Hence, birding lit often focuses on these types of locales. Examples would be the popular 2004 book The Big Year : A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmasick, which chronicled three birders trying to out-do each other by seeing as many birds as possible in North America in one calendar year. Naturally, this took them to many interesting places; Attu Island in the Aleutians is featured prominently. One of my favorite birding adventure books is Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand, another cross-country birding tale, albeit one done on a much smaller budget.
The truth is, most of us live in towns and cities. And if we bother to look, urban areas can be rich in bird life and unusual discoveries. These are essays on birding at sewage lagoons, landfills, parking lots, city parks, and other places many birders shun. As an ecologist who specializes in studying urban wildlife and someone who has discovered a Gyrfalcon in a parking lot and a Kirtland’s Warbler on a commuter college campus, I live the stories in City Birding on a nearly daily basis, and I love to see books like this that open people’s eyes to these neglected habitats.
As with many anthologies, the writing can be uneven: some is good, some is a little wooden. Kaufman’s story about a hawk, a hummingbird, and his cat in his own yard was the best crafted, Sutton’s on the river of raptors in Veracruz, Mexico, the most moving. City Birding is a quick and enjoyable read that fills a niche in the birding lit. Grab a copy, and make a resolution to do a little city birding. You may be in for a very pleasant surprise.