The Curious Bird Lover’s Handbook

  • The Curious Bird Lover’s Handbook by Niall Edworthy (Black Swan, London, 2017).
  • 224 pages, some line illustrations.
  • ISBN 9781784162719. Pbk, £8.99.

This little book has the laudable aim of presenting the facts and figures – as well as thoughts and musings – about birds in a simple, accessible and popular fashion for those who are interested in birds and like watching them, but know little about them. 

It includes a wide range of material, with many old quotes, poems and short discussions. Some facts are tabulated, and there is a scattering of mostly old line drawings – these are uncredited, but many are by Roland Green, and deserve better reproduction. 

It is a pity that a book that should promote an interest in birds uses phrases that the average birder hates: the old ‘flocking together’ and ‘in a flap’ stuff, as well as somewhat cynical definitions of terms such as seawatching, gripping off and so on that reinforce the ‘us and them’ view of birders.

The author says he knew nothing about birds when he started and gives an impression throughout that he remains a little bit disparaging of those who do, but he also quotes material that recommends such things as camouflage clothing that helps maintain a poor image of what birders are about. 

The facts and figures are pretty reliable, but sometimes seem a touch outdated, and panels giving tips on watching birds may be lifted from old books, saying, for example, that good binoculars (7x and 8x are recommended) can be found for under £30 (under £50 in another reference), which is a touch optimistic. 

There is no mention whatsoever of digital photography, nor notebooks and record keeping; discussion of migration doesn’t include any reference to modern satellite-tracking studies or even ringing, and even recommended garden bird food seems to come from an earlier period; there is no mention of nyger seed, for instance. 

While this book might help promote an interest in birds and conservation, I can’t help feeling it will not be a great seller without a modern design, a bit of colour and a more up-to-date approach. 

Written by: Rob Hume