Posted by: Dan | September 22, 2006

Books: Songbird Journeys

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During my recent travels, I finally got around to reading Miyoko Chu’s book, Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds, and I absolutely recommend this book to anyone curious about the hidden aspects of nature and birds in particular. For providing a perspective on the book, however, I wish that I was more well-read on books of this sort, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – hopefully I will get to that book in the coming months, but I know it by reputation, and I think that Songbird Journeys may be an excellent continuation of that tradition.

Chu’s writing is largely an anthology of birdwatching and ornithological experiences that anyone familiar with birds will find a joy to read, and hopefully will intrigue and inspire others as well with her storytelling, about hidden wildlife passing over our heads. It is peppered with neat facts and trivia about the seasonal behavior of birds, and written in an easy-to-read prose. And yes, Chu does make a call for informed management of important bird areas in an era when many songbird populations are in severe flux. How can she not? Many songbird migrant species populations have decreased by more than 50% in the last 40 years, with their Summering and Wintering habitats changing rapidly (and in some cases being erased), natural and human-related disruptions in their diets, and numerous other dangers occurring year round to their travel routes.

Miyoko Chu makes her case for a mix of awe and concern best on page 200 (final page of chapter 10, “Birds of Two Worlds”):

…People who watch a banded gray catbird outside their window all summer will find it hard not to wonder exactly where it’s spending the winter, or to marvel that science still doesn’t have the answer. And if the catbird doesn’t come back, they, too, will inevitably wonder why.

With new insights gained in recent years, conservationists are leading international efforts to save the places where migratory birds live at all times of the year. In 2002, ornithologists exchanged scientific findings about the complex lives of migratory songbirds in a symposium at the Smithsonian Institution and shared their findings in a landmark publication, “Birds of Two Worlds.” As humans alter natural landscapes at an unprecidented pace, its fortunate for all wildlife that songbirds are messengers that connect our neighborhoods with the rest of the planet. As songbirds fly back and forth across the hemispheres, they link us to the distant places we might otherwise forget.


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