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Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birdingby Scott Weidensaul
Synopses & Reviews
From the moment Europeans arrived in North America, they were awestruck by a continent awash with birds—great flocks of wild pigeons, prairies teeming with grouse, woodlands alive with brilliantly colored songbirds. Of a Feather traces the colorful origins of American birding: the frontier ornithologists who collected eggs between border skirmishes; the society matrons who organized the first effective conservation movement; and the luminaries with checkered pasts, such as Alexander Wilson (a convicted blackmailer) and the endlessly self-mythologizing John James Audubon. Scott Weidensaul also recounts the explosive growth of modern birding that began when an awkward schoolteacher named Roger Tory Peterson published A Field Guide to the Birds in 1934. Today birding counts iPod-wearing teens and obsessive "listers" among its tens of millions of participants, making what was once an eccentric hobby into something so completely mainstream its now (almost) cool. This compulsively readable popular history will surely find a roost on every birders shelf.
"'Weidensaul (Return to Wild America) traces bird watching in America from colonial times to the present, when powerful binoculars and other sophisticated technologies have revolutionized the sport. He entertainingly describes many early naturalists who shot and collected birds, including Mark Catesby, John and William Bartram, some military men and an intrepid woman named Martha Maxwell. By the late 19th century, when entire bird populations had been decimated for sport, food and the millinery trade, formidable society ladies began demanding avian protection, the Audubon Society was created and recreational birding, featuring binoculars instead of guns, was born, aided by the emergence of field guides like Roger Tory Peterson's. Today, says Weidensaul, there are millions of birders in the United States, and the sport has entered a new phase, emphasizing competitive birding, lists, rarity chasing and Big Year records. For Weidensaul, this is not a good thing. He finds that people who concentrate on competition and listing often forget the enjoyment of mere observation and the importance of conservation. A naturalist and federally licensed bird bander, he is passionate about birding. His vivid descriptions of his own experiences should send many a reader out of doors to look for 'the small, contained miracle that is a bird.' Photos. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Arriving in the New World, Europeans were awestruck by a continent awash with birds. Today tens of millions of Americans birders have made a once eccentric hobby into something so mainstream its (almost) cool.
Scott Weidensaul traces the colorful evolution of American birding: from the frontier ornithologists who collected eggs between border skirmishes to the society matrons who organized the first effective conservation movement; from the luminaries with checkered pasts, such as convicted blackmailer Alexander Wilson and the endlessly self-mythologizing John James Audubon, to the awkward schoolteacher Roger Tory Peterson, whose A Field Guide to the Birds prompted the explosive growth of modern birding. Spirited and compulsively readable, Of a Feather celebrates the passions and achievements of birders throughout Americcan history.
About the Author
SCOTT WEIDENSAUL is the author of four previous works of natural history-Return to Wild America, The Ghost with Trembling Wings, Pulitzer Prize finalist Living on the Wind, and Mountains of the Heart. He is a federally licensed bird bander and lives in the Pennsylvania Appalachians.
Table of Contents
1 Birds . . . more beautiful than in Europe” 1
2 Except three or four, I do not know them” 41
3 Pushing West 79
4 Shotgun Ornithology 107
5 Angry Ladies 145
6 Becoming a Noun 187
7 Death to Miss Hathaway 227
8 Beyond the List 273
Notes and Bibliography 317
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