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BOOK REVIEW

On the Wing

Trevor Pitcher

Gatherings of Angels: Migrating Birds and Their Ecology. Kenneth P. Able, ed. 193 pp. Cornell University Press, 1999. $29.95.

Once, not so long ago, birds were thought to burrow into the earth and hibernate for the winter. We now know that most birds make incredible journeys to and from their wintering grounds. Each spring thousands of warblers, tanagers, shorebirds, raptors and a host of other birds wait for the appropriate cues—the right weather front, the proper lengthening of daylight—and depart on a journey of hundreds to thousands of miles around the globe.

Although bird migration is an extremely complex and difficult subject matter to explore, during the past decade studies have made significant progress thanks to both fieldwork and experimental research conducted by (among others) the nine Gatherings of Angels contributors, who employ banding and other primitive tools as well as advanced ones such as radar. Editor and contributor Kenneth Able says the book is for those interested in birds and natural history who wish to understand better the problems and challenges faced by these migratory travelers. Able also hopes that this information will encourage and equip readers to recognize effective conservation measures and motivate them to work on behalf of migrant birds.

Painted bird: The male painted buntingClick to Enlarge Image

Able presents an integrated treatment of the biology of bird migration by fully exploiting a cast of the world's most knowledgeable migration researchers. Throughout the book they share their personal and professional experiences regarding the most fascinating aspects of bird migration in the most lucid chapters I have read in recent memory. While discussing recent ideas, hypotheses, trends, results and experimental protocols, the authors provide one of the best general reviews of the majority of scientific and conservation issues surrounding bird migration: causes of migration, the stopover ecology of neotropical migrants and six case studies (blackpoll warblers, broadwinged hawks, sandhill cranes, white-rumped sandpipers, dunlins and western sandpipers, and hummingbirds). The book concludes with a tract on the current issues surrounding the conservation of migratory birds.

Cloud of life: Dunlins swarmClick to Enlarge Image

This book is first rate: broad in appeal, readable (including additional references for those who would like more information), well illustrated with many useful tables, graphs and extraordinary color photographs. Gatherings of Angels is approachable to general readers with biological or environmental background and will be valued by natural historians, researchers and students of animal behavior, ecology, ornithology and conservation. One comes away from this book with not only a much better understanding of avian migration research and conservation but also a sense of hope.—Trevor E. Pitcher, Zoology, University of Toronto

 

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