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A photographic showcase of 150 birds at the extremes of nature.
Extreme Birds reveals nature's ingenuity and sometimes its sense of humor. The species showcased in this book are chosen for their extraordinary characteristics and for behaviors far beyond the typical. They are the biggest, the fastest, the meanest, the smartest. They build the most intricate nests, they have the most peculiar mating rituals, and they dive the deepest or fly the highest. These are the overachievers of the avian world.
Enlivened with entertaining facts and anecdotes, Extreme Birds is an engaging celebration of nature's enormous imagination and will appeal to all readers, especially birders and naturalists.
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Dominic Couzens has written many books on birds and birding, leads specialized bird tours, and is a regular contributor to Birdwatch and BBC Wildlife magazines.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Few groups of animals are as visible or abundant as birds. It is difficult to go outside without seeing at least a few, even if they are only pigeons or sparrows. Because of this, birds are perhaps the best known and appreciated of all wildlife.
Many avian record holders are both famous and obvious. The largest mammal might be hidden away under the sea, and the largest snake might keep to itself, but you cannot miss an ostrich wandering over the African savanna. It can't miss you, either, because its eyes are five times as big as yours, the largest of any vertebrate. Meanwhile, the bird with the largest wingspan, the wandering albatross, is a household name and a symbol of the destruction we have wrought in the oceans, while the feats of the fast-flying peregrine falcon and the deep-diving emperor penguin are well known to many enthusiasts.
However, if you delve deeper into the world of birds, you will find some astonishing feats that are not so well known. There is a bird, for example, that can sleep for 100 days, and another that can fly without stopping for a minimum of four years. There are those that can hear in three dimensions and spot a rodent from a mile away, and others that can fly to heights of 30,000 feet (9,000 m) without any side effects. Still others use their mouths as thermometers. Despite the fact that birds are much less physically and physiologically variable than many other animals -- as a result of the constraints placed upon them by the need to fly -- they still manage to take their body plan and abilities to every possible extreme.
Once we begin to look into the behavior of birds we find even more surprises. Here the "extremes" might not be so obvious, but the ways in which birds live and solve their problems are no less remarkable. Take the Arctic owls that cache the bodies of rodents for later consumption and then defrost them by sitting on them as they would eggs, or the small African parrot that carries its nest material in the feathers of its back, leaving its wings free for flight. The behaviors of birds -- those small nuances of difference that have arisen to give a competitive advantage -- are a mine of intrigue and astonishment.
Nowhere is this more obvious than during reproduction. Birds, it seems, will go to any lengths to get their genes passed on, be it by rape, deception or parasitism -- and sometimes by all three within the same species. Yet while the young may be cosseted inside nests with exceptional insulating properties, they may also be summarily abandoned when conditions for breeding go awry. Young birds don't just sit there and accept what comes to them either; some deliberately kill their siblings, and others may fire lazy parents. Acts of desperate survival are everywhere.
No book of this kind is possible without its source material, so I must thank a group of people whose labors are sometimes overlooked -- the researchers. It is they who put in the hard hours of effort and inquiry that may ultimately translate into a single sentence on the page of a book. There is no record without someone to measure it, and no discovery of previously unknown behavior without someone in the field to look and wonder. This book is really a tribute to the researchers' efforts.
It has become fashionable in recent times for every wildlife book to make a plea about conservation, but in this case repetition is apposite, and I make no apology for raking over the obvious once again. A number of the species in this book, including the wandering albatross, the Andean condor, the hooded grebe and the aquatic warbler, have low populations and are close to extinction. They are not included here for their rarity, of course, but for some extreme of lifestyle or behavior. The very fact, however, that every bird book records characteristics that are in danger of being lost is merely symptomatic of how carelessly we have treated our world. I hope that, in its small way, Extreme Birds will help fight against this trend and spread a little delight in the feathered creatures with which we share this planet.
Dorset, England, April 2008
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