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The Winged Species


Ranjit Lal

ABOUT INDIAN BIRDS
By Salim Ali and Laeeq Futehally
Wisdom Tree, Delhi, 2008, pp. 122, Rs. 495.00

GARDEN BIRDS OF DELHI, AGRA AND JAIPUR
A Project of Samar Singh
Wisdom Tree, Delhi, 2008, pp. 111, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 8 August 2008

One of the big problems with writing about birds in India is that there are around 1300 species screeching for your attention (and their fifteen minutes of fame!), and what may be commonly seen in one area may well be a rarity in another – so on what basis do you include or exclude a particular species? And how do you introduce the country’s mind-boggling bird life to the uninitiated – and especially youngsters – without scaring them off? About Indian Birds attempts to do just that and does so simply, clearly and without overwhelming the reader at any point.   First the book introduces us to the role of birds in the world and their place in the grand scheme of things, which we call the ecosystem. As we always think of ourselves as numero uno the succinct claim that birds (and probably every other living creature in the world) can live without us, but we can’t live without them comes as a terse reminder of our true place in this hierarchy and why it is imperative to conserve and protect them.   Having put us in our place, the book begins by introducing us to birds – defining them, describing them, and their features, feeding habits, talents – and most importantly stating that they work through instinct rather than intelligence – a fact that is reiterated throughout the book. The following chapter is devoted to song and courtship – how they sing, fight, court, nest and raise families, which of course is the raison d’etre of their existence. ‘Nesting Habits’ describes the different types of nests birds build, the process of laying eggs and incubation, and the hectic feeding schedules that follow once the eggs hatch. The fascinating subject of Migration follows, how and why birds fly enormous distances annually from their breeding grounds (usually) in the Northern hemisphere to their wintering retreats in our part of the world. The process of bird ringing to track their movements, which is mentioned, is now being replaced by the placing of tiny radio transmitters on birds to enable their exact routes be tracked by satellite so that protection can be (hopefully) organized for most of the route, is an update that could have perhaps been included.   The remaining five chapters deal with the species typically found in different habitats: in towns and cities, in scrub and jungle, in and around agricultural fields and farms (and whether they ...


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