At once gossipy and scholarly, Of a Feather recounts rivalries, controversies, bad behavior and other key episodes in the making of modern birding. Lively and illuminating…
The Washington Post
Weidensaul (Return to Wild America) traces bird watching in America from colonial times to the present, when powerful binoculars and other sophisticated technologies have revolutionized the sport. He entertainingly describes many early naturalists who shot and collected birds, including Mark Catesby, John and William Bartram, some military men and an intrepid woman named Martha Maxwell. By the late 19th century, when entire bird populations had been decimated for sport, food and the millinery trade, formidable society ladies began demanding avian protection, the Audubon Society was created and recreational birding, featuring binoculars instead of guns, was born, aided by the emergence of field guides like Roger Tory Peterson's. Today, says Weidensaul, there are millions of birders in the United States, and the sport has entered a new phase, emphasizing competitive birding, lists, rarity chasing and Big Year records. For Weidensaul, this is not a good thing. He finds that people who concentrate on competition and listing often forget the enjoyment of mere observation and the importance of conservation. A naturalist and federally licensed bird bander, he is passionate about birding. His vivid descriptions of his own experiences should send many a reader out of doors to look for "the small, contained miracle that is a bird." Photos. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From Pulitzer Prize finalist Weidensaul (Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul, 2005, etc.), a popular history of one of the country's fastest-growing pastimes: birding. Over the past two centuries, it's grown from a hobby of the shy and eccentric to a craze among tens of millions of mainstream Americans. The narrative begins with the first Europeans encountering a vast new continent of natural wonders unknown in the Old World: flocks of now-extinct passenger pigeons blotting out the sun; fields teeming with grouse and quail; songbirds of wondrous music and color never before seen. Weidensaul deftly notes the parallels between the evolution of the republic and the development of ornithology, a new science that benefited from enthusiastic amateurs spending thousands of man-hours providing observation data. The quirky cast of characters includes Alexander Wilson, a Scottish ne'er-do-well and convicted blackmailer who established one of the Ur-texts of ornithology; John James Audubon, whose army of lockstep preservationists prevailed over the near disaster wrought by "market shooting"; and the father of modern birding, a shy schoolteacher named Roger Tory Peterson. The author quotes extensively from early ornithologists, an indulgence more than justified not only by the rare picture they provide of a North America that no longer exists, but by the novelty and wonder of their prose. Present conditions stem fairly directly from past figures and events, we learn. For example, thanks to the efforts of a group of high-society Boston ladies, there is now a federal ban on shooting wild birds. Weidensaul traces the fascinating evolution of ornithology from acollection-oriented discipline based on shooting and stuffing birds to today's science, oriented toward the observation of living birds. Concomitantly, he depicts birding's progression from a clubby hobby to a mass recreation. Highly readable, ideal for bird lovers and history buffs alike. Agent: Peter Matson/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.
PRAISE FOR OF A FEATHER
"At once gossipy and scholarly, Of a Feather recounts rivalries, controversies, bad behavior and other key episodes in the making of modern birding. Lively and illuminating, it has surprises, too."The Washington Post Book World
"Weidensaul is a charming guide . . . You don't have to be a birder to enjoy this look at one of today's fastest-growing (and increasingly competitive) hobbies."The Arizona Republic
A compelling story from Colonial times to the present by one of today's best natural history writers, describing not just birders but also scientists and conservationists. (LJ 8/07)