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Birds In Their Habitats - Journeys With a Naturalist
Ian Fraser
240 Pages
ISBN: 9781486307449
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Birds In Their Habitats - Journeys With a Naturalist

Engagingly written, Birds in Their Habitats is dripping with intriguing facts, a treasure trove of information that's easy (and enjoyable) to digest. 

Birds In Their Habitats is a book of the discovery of birds and the places they live. Everywhere we go there are birds, and they all have mysteries to be unravelled. These mysteries include the way they look, from bizarre to apparently mundane, why they live where they live, and the things they do, many of which are far too incredible to even be imagined as fiction.

Birds in Their Habitats is a collection of stories and experiences, which introduce fascinating aspects of birdlife, ecology, and behaviour. Informed by a wealth of historical and contemporary research, Ian Fraser takes the reader on a journey through four continents: from places as unfamiliar as the Chonos Archipelago of southern Chile and the arid Sahel woodlands of northern Cameroon, to those as familiar as a suburban backyard. And with humour and personal insight, it is a book about the sometimes strange world of the people who spend a life absorbed in birds. 

Reviewed by Gordon Rich:

As the title suggests, this is a book about birds in their natural environment, in this case as seen through the eyes of Canberra naturalist Ian Fraser. However, it is not a dry, scientific text, but rather a collection of stories about the author’s experience in seeing different types of birds in various far-flung parts of the world. 

Fraser elegantly combines anecdotes about his own birdwatching adventures with references to scientific research to help explain how different species adapt and survive in vastly different environments. The range of habitats covered includes deserts, rainforests, oceans, mountains, wetlands, grasslands and even suburbia.

The book’s engaging stories transport the reader to some fascinating environments, such as the Colca Canyon in Peru, home of the Andean Condor. This colossal bird of prey with a wingspan of up to 3.2m and weighing up to 15kg can be seen effortlessly soaring up on air currents from the canyon valley, over 1km below. The author then uses this observation to delve into the mechanics of how birds fly and, in particular, how very heavy birds use the technique of soaring.

Fraser is unashamedly Southern Hemisphere in his focus, with most of his travels being to South America, Africa, south-east Asia and around his home country of Australia. But let’s face it, these are also some of the most exciting birdwatching destinations in the world! So it may be with a touch of jealousy that one reads about such exotic destinations as the jungles of west Africa, the Amazon Basin or the Galápagos Islands. 

However, even when discussing more prosaic habitats, like the local wetland in Canberra or birds visiting his own backyard, Fraser is able to convey a sense of wonder and interest to his observations. For example, having seen a tiny Spotted Pardalote excavating a nesting hole in his backyard compost heap, he goes on to talk about the surprisingly high number of bird species that utilise nesting burrows. One of the most impressive of these is the Patagonian Conure (also known as the Burrowing Parrot), whose burrows can be ‘3m long, zig-zagging into cliff faces and joining other burrows to form a great labyrinth. One colony contained 35 000 active nests along 12km of cliff face’.

Birds in Their Habitats is not an avicultural book, so may not be of specific interest to all ABK readers. However, since many ‘bird people’ share a passion for both captive and wild birds, I think this book has something to offer most readers. In particular, I think that an understanding of how birds survive in their natural environment goes hand-in-hand with being a good aviculturist. 

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