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Excellent Essays and Fantastic Photos Reveal Threats to Western Hemisphere Birds

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A review by Mark VanderVen

Bringing Back the Birds: Exploring Migration and Preserving Birdscapes throughout the Americas, by Owen Deutsch and the American Bird Conservancy

Braided River, 2019

208 pages, hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14928

“We are a dying symphony.

No bird knows this, 

But us — we know…”

Margaret Atwood’s poem “Fatal Light Awareness” introduces the remarkable Bringing Back the Birds: Exploring Migration and Preserving Birdscapes throughout the Americas, giving us a haunting reminder of anthropogenically-driven mass declines of many American bird species. Hers is one of eight written pieces by bird-world luminaries that range in subject-matter from exploring why we like birds, the science of bird migration, the myriad threats that confront Western Hemispheric bird populations, and possible solutions to the dramatic avian declines in the Americas.

The best way to begin reviewing Bringing Back the Birds is to candidly confess the fun challenge of reviewing a book that offers so much. Does the reviewer begin by describing it as a beautiful coffee table book, lushly and omnipresently illustrated by Owen Deutsch’s photography? Does the reviewer boast of the acclaimed slate of contributors including Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, and the Kaufmans? Or do they start by emphasizing the overarching messages of the book, namely the grave threat to migratory bird populations and the role the management of American Bird Conservancy “BirdScapes” can play in stanching and perhaps even reversing decline in the Western Hemisphere?

Birds need all of healthy breeding territories, wintering grounds, and migratory paths. Novelist Franzen follows Atwood’s introductory poem with a foreword that serves as an abstract of the text to come. He extols the resilience and appeal of birds yet warns of the perils they face on and between wintering and nesting grounds. “Seabirds can still fly immense distances… but during breeding season they’re tied to the islands where they raise their chicks.” Yet Franzen provides a guarded sense of optimism, citing how the American Bird Conservatory (ABC) is working with farmers in places like Chihuahua, Mexico, to conserve and create habitat while enabling them to stay on their land.

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