Monday, August 15, 2011

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build: A review

Birds are some of the most successful architects on earth. Buried deep within the avian DNA is a set of blueprints and the urge to execute them.

The primary function of a bird's nest, of course, is to protect and nurture the bird's young, and the one measure of the success of avian architecture is how well the nest fulfills that function. The wonder is that among some 10,000 species of birds on earth, there are 10,000 different blueprints for achieving that purpose.


In Peter Goodfellow's book, Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build, he fits those 10,000 designs into twelve different categories and explores iconic examples of each category. He provides us with detailed blueprints and a materials list which show how and of what the nest is constructed. We see pictures of mere scrapes in the sand that are the camouflaged nests of many shorebirds and, at the other extreme of intricacy, woven, hanging nests or tightly constructed mud nests. You might think of them as the difference between a thatch hut in the jungle and a suburban McMansion; regardless, each serves its purpose - to protect and raise a family.

This is a fascinating book for anyone with the slightest interest in birds, and that is most people, I think. Birds are the wild creatures with which humans have the most constant and intimate contact because birds are everywhere. Even for people who pay no attention to them, birds are part of the background color of our lives. If they were missing, that background would be much more dull and gray.

But for anyone who loves birds and has spent time watching a mockingbird or a bluebird or any other backyard bird construct its nest, this book is a revelation of the intricate engineering that goes into those nests. Moreover, nests are a good perspective from which to study the mating and parenting of birds because they are so accessible, i.e., relatively easy to find and to view. Watching one of these marvels of architecture during nesting season can teach the observer much about the particular species as well as the individual bird.

The reader of this book will learn all of that and more. It is highly recommended for those fascinated by birds and by the particular avian intelligence that is at work in their architecture.

(A copy of this book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher for the purposes of this review.)





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