Many birders, present company included, give the impression that only uncommon birds matter to us, the rarer the better. Yet, while we are admittedly excited by exotic avifauna, often willing to go to great lengths to view the unusual or unexpected, these are not the species that sustain our passion. More than likely, a birder is drawn in and kept going by common species, the same waterfowl and feeder birds we see month after month, year after year. Why is it that familiarity breeds, in this case, not contempt but warm affection? One new book answers that question by not just telling, but showing us how precious the most prosaic birds can be.
The Secret Lives of Common Birds by Marie Read captures the magic of the mundane, rendering run-of-the-mill birds in vivacious color and thrilling action. Jays, sparrows, finches, robins, doves, and chickadees like the model on the book’s cover are among the subjects of this fascinating book. These are species we may at times take for granted, but after a few pages, the ways in which each one is exceptional come rushing back. Marie Read is an acclaimed wildlife photographer, one capable of uncovering the hidden depths of even the most overexposed avian. Her deft touch and eye for color make this book a pleasure simply to thumb through.
My immediate reaction to books by photographers is to dismiss the quality of the writing. Though I picked up Secret Lives of Common Birds assuming that the accompanying text would be shallow and forced, I was pleasantly mistaken. In fact, I learned quite a bit from this book. Ms. Read describes the life cycles of her subjects, describing all different facets of bird behavior through the seasons from creating new life in the spring to struggling for survival in winter.
Ultimately, Secret Lives of Common Birds is an enjoyable read. Beginning bird watchers may like it best, but even those of us intimately acquainted with our local avifauna are likely to learn something. Best of all, the photographs are fantastic, bound to appeal to bird lovers.