This book is a record, in word and picture, of 56 British birds that may still be seen in and around our towns and villages. And we should all be glad that they can still be seen and heard, in spite of progressive urbanisation and the use of highly toxic chemicals in agriculture, which has caused havoc among such varied species as the chaffinch, the green woodpecker and the kestrel – as catastrophic as the bird-killing winder of 1962-3. Fortunately, our bird population seems to be remarkably resilient.
Basil Ede’s 36 paintings, specially commissioned for this book, show us the birds in typical surroundings, making recognition easy. W.D. Campbell’s text amplifies the paintings by describing each bird for us, touching on its characteristics and peculiarities, its haunts, song, food and nesting habits. He also mixes in stories and legends and personal reminiscences, for he has long been a keen observer of birds. Often he has a small phrase that brilliantly pin-points a bird for us; when contrasting the carrion crow with the rook, for instance, he says ‘the carrion crow is an individualistic freebooter rather than a mass-conforming commuter’, or when he writes of the barn owl’s ‘disembodied face silently floating towards one’, or the little tree creeper’s penetrating call ‘reminiscent of hard cloth being cut by fast-working tailor’s scissors.’
This book will make an ideal gift for all bird lovers, for it has a twofold purpose. As the author puts it in his Introduction, apart from purely aesthetic appeal of the illustrations, it is hoped ‘that the pictures and text together may form a reference book which will not only lead to the identification of some of our commonest birds, but also stimulate interest in their habits and behaviour. Another more subtle intention is that once these basic 56 species are thoroughly known, the observer will become so interested that he or she will desire to name any of the 300 or so other species which may be encountered in Britain’.