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Book Review: City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places

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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.

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About Nuthatch

  • http://patfish.blogspot.com/ Pat Fish

    I used to live on a little spit of water off of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. What a wonderful place to bird this was.

    Love your name. In my new Delaware home I just saw my first nuthatch after three years here. I heard that pleasant yuk-yuk and was happy as a clam.

    In my new home I have plenty of goldfinches and pine siskins. Gone are the ospreys, kingfishers, swans and other waterbirds that I could see with a look down to the cove.

    I often see kestrals sitting on lamp poles along the highways and byways. I often wonder if anyone else pays these sights any mind.

  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Bliffle

    One of the great pleasures in travel is to discover the new and the familiar birds in a new country, Even cities, especially in the US, provide fine hunting grounds, but some foreign capitals have had their natural birdlife almost demolished by insecticides and other poisons, often transported thru the city in famous rivers. Paris, for example, is dismaying to me, inhabited as it seems to be by only some magpies and sparrows, and those not very distinguished. But upon leaving Paris one soon finds examples such as the lively Rouge Gorge and several ‘pics’ (woodpeckers). But US cities seem to be filled with both permanent residents of interest but also a great variety of migrating birds.

    But whereever one goes it pays to carry a small 6×15 set of pocket binocs (99% of birdwatching requires nothing better – only extremely poor light conditions require the clumsy 6×40 burdens one sees REI-clothed and booted enviro-fakers commonly accoutered with).