"Lo, though nature red in tooth and claw..."

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1850

Book Review: Birds in Flight

Posted by MaryEllen On 10:15 PM

It is often the case, with books on wildlife, that one can either get a book with wonderful photos, but not much in the way of content, or a densely written book with possibly a few nice photos. “Birds in Flight”, by Carrol L. Henderson, is one of the few that successfully combines both. This is a really lovely and fascinating book.
The subtitle of the book is “the art and science of how birds fly”, which is a very succinct and absolutely correct description of the content. It starts out with an amazing photo gallery of birds in flight – not just soaring eagles and other common images, but close-ups of the birds that capture the exact position of their wings as they go about their business. A black vulture coming in for a landing shows these somewhat ungainly birds in a beautiful rush of feather and feet; a swan taking off from a misty lake vibrates with power and majesty. The gallery, however, is not just a series of photos. It also introduces various types of birds and their various types of flight – birds of prey, water birds, etc.

The gallery lays the groundwork for the next section, titled “Avian Aerodynamics”, gets into further detail of exactly how flight works – thrust and drag, lift, forward motion, and so on. There are more beautiful photos to illustrate each of these components to flight. The explanations and photos not only show us the basic of how birds fly, but of how anything flies, and the author ties in how the study of birds relates to the history of human flight, and how our increasing understand of bird flight continues to inform our own technology.

The photographic feast for the eyes continues as the book explains how the structure of various part of the bird contribute to flight – not just wings and feathers, but tails and feet and heads and necks. There are incredibly fascinating descriptions and photos of various birds taking off and landing, soaring and diving, hovering and darting. Each type of flight is explained and lavishly illustrated.

All in all, this is one of the best wildlife photography books I have seen in a long time. The photos are all fresh and new and show us perspectives never before seen of birds in flight. The cover alone is just stunning – a series of photos of an owl swooping down to catch prey. The text is interesting, easy to read, and contains not only a complete and detailed explanation of how birds fly, but little-known and fascinating facts about the various birds.

I highly recommend this book for any lover of wildlife, birds, or people simply interested in the mechanics of flight.



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