Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. — 272 p. — ISBN 978-0-691-15764-1.All birds are equal, but some are more equal than others. It’s a simple truth that as a group our raptors command more attention than the majority of our other bird fauna, and always have done. I’m often asked by young and old which is my favourite bird. It’s a very difficult question but only because I struggle to separate Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. And when I bounce the question back, Peregrine, Golden Eagle and Osprey frequently betray a similar passion for birds of prey. I spent the summer of ‘76 returning a brood of Barn Owls to the wild in Hampshire. It was a magical task and certainly a formative influence on my early fascination with both predators and their conservation. They had come indirectly from David Cobham but it was many years before we met and our mutual obsession for British raptors properly realized. Thus, when I heard he was writing this book it was eagerly anticipated. This book has many strengths: it is not only crammed with ornithological references but also cultural, historical, sociological, military, literary and artistic, making it a fascinating and refreshing read. And it is also deliberately contemporary, a detailed ‘snapshot’ of these birds right now, in terms of numbers, population trends and a wide range of attitudes. But for me its real strengths are its very personal reflections on a lifetime of interest and concern, an intimate exposition of boundless curiosity and a rare but essential pragmatic modesty when it comes to fact and expertise. At no point does the author pose as the authority; he meets and learns from those at the very top of their fields or those properly qualified to comment on everything from issues of persecution to secretive aspects of the birds’ behaviour. And as he has not shied from those issues, this is also a frank exposé of a guild of birds struggling to survive in the twenty-first century. It outlines conservation successes but equally highlights the abject plight of species such as the Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle and Goshawk, all birds still burdened by deliberate, brutal and illegal persecution. I read this book, enjoyed it, learned a lot and ultimately, through its infectious enthusiasm, I felt inspired to work harder myself when it comes to finding solutions to ensure the future survival of this unique and very special group of birds. It does British birds of prey a great service, and boy do they need it – so I hope that you will read it and be suitably inspired too.
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