The Birds of London


London has not lacked avifaunas over the years, but this is the first absolutely up-to-date comprehensive summary of London’s birdlife, including all historical records and vagrants.

Britain’s capital city has a surprisingly long species list of 369 (the official recording area taken as being within a 20-mile radius of St Paul’s by the London Natural History Society), derived in part from its position on the country’s largest river estuary in the Thames, and under a couple of fairly major flyways along the Lea and Colne Valley. The city also has several huge bodies of water and national level nature reserves, including the RSPB’s flagship urban site at Rainham Marshes on the Essex border. Add to this many keen and expert birders resident in the metropolis, along with the institution of one of the earliest natural history societies, and there are plenty of eyes looking for the strays that pitch up in ‘the Big Smoke’.

Andrew Self is a key figure in the modern London birding scene, having been London bird recorder for many years, as well as a meticulous documenter of his local patch at Brent Reservoir. This encyclopaedic tome is easily up to the standards of other recent county avifaunas. The introductory sections begin with the dates of individual species’ addition to the London list, a monthly calendar of notable birds, descriptions of habitats and main birding sites, and thumbnail biographies of London’s most important historical ornithologists.

This is followed by a series of colour plates illustrating locations and notable birds, and then the 365-page systematic list which details the current and historical status of each of London’s species, with records itemised for the scarcer and rare forms, and the odd comment and snippet of interest. This makes for engaging browsing and my only gripe would be that the status for some species is somewhat oddly described – for example, Pheasant is said to be an “uncommon resident”, though around the rural fringes of urban London it can be abundant.

However, there is much here to delve into even if you have never lived anywhere near the capital, and there are many obscure amuse bouches from the depths of dusty libraries contained within. These go right back, including the first-ever British Red-breasted Goose from 1766 and descriptions of inner London rookeries from the 18th century, for example. Any birder with an interest in the capital will be well-advised to invest in this sturdy tome.

Written by: David Callahan