Vagrancy In Birds – A Review

My eldest daughter kindly bought me Vagrancy In Birds as a Christmas present. She is abroad over the festive period, so we exchanged and opened gifts at the weekend As I’ve opened it I’ve not stood on ceremony and read it, so Santa may disapprove but I can at least assure you this isn’t a review of a free copy.

Unsurprisingly perhaps the book opens with an explanation of how birds navigate. There are then several short chapters covering causes of avian vagrancy, namely compass errors, wind drift, overshooting, extreme weather, irruption, exploratory dispersal and human driven examples. After a brief discussion on the potential impacts of vagrant birds on ecosystems they arrive at the meat of the book is given over to discussion of vagrancy (or in some cases the lack of it) among all the bird families of the world. Finally there is brief consideration of vagrancy in an era of global change and a peer into the possible future.

As a birder with no particular scientific background I consider the chapters on migration and forms of vagrancy to be excellent. Although some of the topics are by their nature abstract and complex the narrative is engaging and I learned a lot without it ever feeling like a chore. It was also refreshing that the authors were transparent about what remains uncertain and the potential impacts of bias in coverage and other variables.

The chapters on the different bird families are also generally interesting. They are probably more accessible in places to people who have done a lot of world birding, but the substantial research undertaken makes for a very informative read. Rather than digest these in one go they might be best dipped into when relevant to the readers own bird finding, twitching and foreign trips.

If I was to make a couple of suggestions for improvement one would be that it felt like the photos had been sourced excessively from close acquaintances, and the overall aesthetic might have been improved by a use of the work of a wider pool of photographers. Also the approach of listing all bird families including those that aren’t known to have exhibited vagrancy isn’t the best use of space and paper; a paragraph before the main body of this section listing ‘nil returns’ might have been better.

Overall if you have any interest in vagrant birds this book is wholeheartedly recommended. As would be expected from two former punkbirders it is both rigorously researched and accessible to birders. If you get cash for Christmas it will probably enhance your birding experience more than yet another field guide.

Chestnut-eared Bunting, Fair Isle, 2004. This isn’t from the book (it’s mine) but is in line with its ethos, a bird so unexpected that it was thought by many to have escaped

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