Birds and People: Bonds in a Timeless Journey
Few of us get up with the lark any more – but then there are so few larks to get up with, compared to the 1890s, when 40,000 were delivered to London’s Leadenhall Market in a single day. Yet from the eggs we eat at breakfast to the eiderdown duvet we gratefully slide under at the end of the day – not to mention the images on the coins and notes in our pockets, the logos on the packaging our food and drink comes in, and the words and phrases we use – birds still pervade our lives, and our thoughts and the way we think them.
Birds and People: Bonds in a Timeless Journey unfolds the history of our relationship with the most colourful and familiar of the groups of organisms we share our planet with. The first of its five chapters looks at the place of birds in our cultures, ancient and modern, and the role they play in the myths and other stories we use to explain the world and our place in it. The second chapter explains how these myths evolved into the iconography of the art and poetry of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and charts the continuing inspiration which birds provided to artists, poets, composers and songwriters through the Romantic movement to the 21st Century, when birds have come to be celebrated as much for their own sake as for their significance as symbols of grace, love or sacrifice.
Another chapter deals with humankind’s use of birds for food, feathers and fertiliser, and the gradual shift from sustainability to overexploitation, as the traditional practices of local communities broke down under the influence of global trade. There are glimpses of the unimaginable abundance of wildlife in times so recently past, in the stories of the cartloads of larks brought to Europe’s markets, and the wildfowl heaped aboard trains to feed the cities of the United States.
Next we are reminded of the many ways in which we benefit from birds, the billions of dollars-worth of pest control, pollination, sanitation and nutrient recycling services which remain off the balance sheet; the millions of birds that lose their liberty (and often die in transit) to satisfy our desire for pet birds, show birds, and birds as rare as the work of great artists; and the growth of birdwatching and bird tourism, which is beginning to creep on to the balance sheet, enabling some of the poorest countries of the world, economically speaking, to benefit from the fact that they often have the richest avifauna.
The fifth and final chapter explores what the study of birds has told us, about their lives and behaviour, about the world and what we are doing to it, and about ourselves. By arriving earlier on their breeding grounds, or shifting their ranges towards the poles, birds are warning us about an environmental threat just as surely as canaries used to warn miners about the build-up of poisonous gases. Sensitive to noxious fumes, the canaries would stop singing; something analogous is happening to the species which global warming is pushing towards extinction.
But Birds and People ends with a celebration of our relationship with birds and the joy in life that encounters with birds can bring us, and reassures us that “there are welcome signs that we may now be emerging into a new maturity and wisdom in the way we relate to birds and the environments that they occupy alongside us.” This book is one of those signs.
Published: 4 December 2007 Price: £29.99
Birds and People is part of the CEMEX Conservation Series. It is produced in association with Agrupación Sierra Madre and BirdLife International. The Book is distributed by NHBS Environment Bookstore.
COPIES OF THIS BOOK CAN BE PURCHASED FROM THE NHBS ONLINE BOOKSTORE
Book details: Collar, N.J., A.J. Long, P. Robles Gil, and J. Rojo. 2007. Birds and People: Bonds in a Timeless Journey.
CEMEX-Agrupación Sierra Madre-BirdLife International.
Mexico, 360 pp, 32 cm x 31 cm, 3.0 kg, cloth bound hardback with dustjacket. Full colour with tens of images.
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