I have just finished Winged Wonders by Peter Watkins & Jonathan Stockland and find myself deeply impressed by how the authors managed to pack so much information about their subject into such a compact, perfectly sized package. There are chapters here on sixteen different birds (from owls to ravens to wrens) and along with a look at state birds, bird illustrators and birdsong the whole book is just barely 200 pages. It is the perfect title for those with curiosity but not a lot of time (the chapters lend themselves to easy bathroom reading) but I'll be recommending it in my June column as an excellent teen read for budding ornithologists (along with a new bird watching guide from HMH).
There are a ton (a ton!!) of references in Winged Wonders (if you are writing any sort of book that requires such information you must grab a copy as a resource) and I kept flagging certain passages merely for my own amusement. There are numerous examples of saints and birds, the whole history of doves = good while pigeons = bad (even though they are the same) and the long perception of eagles as symbols of greatness and nobility (Shelly, Arabian Nights and Zeus all name-dropped in only two paragraphs on that bird). But here was something that truly blew me away:
Thus the great Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, as he charted the great sweep of the bay of San Francisco [in 1775], discovers that dangerous rock and, on behalf of his avian deliverers, named it La Isla de los Alcatraces ('The island of the Pelicans'). Many years later the name was shortened to 'Alcatraz' or just 'The Rock,' the most notorious prison in the United States.
de Ayala's ship was spared from colliding with The Rock in a deep fog when a flock of pelicans suddenly "explodes from beneath the very bows of the ship". The ship was swung away from the birds, avoided the rock and everyone lived. But who thinks pelicans when they think of Alcatraz? Fascinating, isn't it?
There is also Charlemagne's mother as Mother Goose, the peacock as a symbol of immortality, the origin of the "Lady's Hawk" (which made me want to watch the movie immediately) (oh how I love that movie!!!) and, well, I could go on and on. Wonderfully smart writing and I think a true companion for literary-minded bird watching aficionados.