[Tweeters] Tweeters is the BEST!

jrkarr at olypen.com jrkarr at olypen.com
Sat Mar 28 15:01:53 PDT 2020

Another suggestion of a stimulating book about brds.

Two years ago I read “The Ascent of Birds” by John Reilly (2018), an exploration of many intriguing questions about birds, with emphasis on recent advances in understanding of bird ecology, biogeography, evolution, physiology, and behavior. In 27 chapters averaging about 10 pages/chapter, Reilly introduces a bird species (hoatzin, oilbird, godwit) or group (tinamous, waterfowl, hummingbirds, storm petrels, owls, parrots, manakins, crows, thrushes, sparrows, crossbills, tanagers, and many more). Each chapter is "a pithy essay describing some special features" of the species or group. The role of geologic and biogeographic events in evolution of each group is coupled with special features such as morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations and, when known, their genetic underpinnings. For example, how do Bar-headed Geese fly over the Himalayan Mountains or Bar-tailed Godwits fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand (more than 7,000 miles) in 9 days? What ecological and biogeographic factors underpin the extraordinary diversification of hummingbirds in South America? How does hummingbird metabolism sustain a heart that beats 1200 times per minute during flight? How do albatrosses find enough food to sustain themselves and their nestlings in apparently featureless expanses (up to 5.9 million square miles) of open ocean? Why are falcons closer to parrots than hawks in recent field guides? And so on.

Reilly’s stated goal in the book was "to increase the general public’s awareness of the wonders of evolution” as illustrated by birds. Some of the concepts are a little challenging but the book includes a comprehensive glossary, list of sources for each chapter, and a comprehensive index. He shows how geography, ecology, and lots of time answer the question ”How did the incredible diversity of more than 10,000 living bird species come to be?”

Reilly’s profession involved biochemistry and medicine with specialization in causes and treatment of various blood cancers. He has also been a keen birder all his life. Since developing an interest in avian evolution, he has concentrated on tracking down and photographing species that have important evolutionary studies to tell. And he tells those stories very well.

As a practicing ornithologist, now retired, I learned much from this book. Now I’m having fun leading a monthly lecture/discussion group (Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, OPAS) on the spectacular diversity of birds based on “Ascent of Birds.”

You too might be enthralled by the story of the ascent of birds as a way to spice up the isolation required during this global pandemic.

Jim Karr

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