Life on the wing

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
HAMLYN YOUNG ORNITHOLOGISTS GUIDES: BIRD BEHAVIOUR. By Louise Dawson and Mike Langman - 0 600 57981 6. BIRD HABITATS AND CONSERVATION. By David Chandler and Mike Langman - 0 600 57982 4. Hamlyn Pounds 7.99 each.

Bird Behaviour aims to convince young ornithologists that studying birds in the field is as worthwhile as chasing rarities. All birds share feathers and the importance of feather care - sunning, bathing and moulting - cannot be exaggerated. But why do they gather in flocks? Why do they defend feeding and nesting territories? What is the purpose behind birdsong? Drawing on a series of examples, the authors explain the influences on behaviour that can be seen among birds around towns as well as out in the countryside.

The relevance of plumage differences between the sexes of the same species, and nesting behaviour are dealt with in the same way. What drives birds to migrate, or to stay to battle with the elements, maybe "irrupting" if food supplies fail, is also dealt with, accompanied by paintings, drawings and occasional photographs.

If the aim is to stimulate thought rather than to provide answers to every question raised by bird behaviour, it succeeds admirably.

What are the threats to the world's birdlife, and does it matter? Against the conservation disasters (Great Auk, Passenger Pigeon and the Dodo) can be counted the successes (Seychelles Magpie Robin, Gurney's Pitta, Cahow and Takahe) that returned from the brink of extinction to a degree of security. Bird Habitats and Conservation aims to help readers understand the mechanisms that put birds under pressure through examples of endangered species in Britain, and the practical solutions that may help. Habitat loss is the greatest direct threat, followed by hunting and egg-collecting, the wild bird trade and pollution.

The future of the 70 per cent of species whose populations are at risk or declining rests with the next generations who must clear up our mess. Raising awareness of the issues is the first part of the battle.

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