Friday, October 07, 2011

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build by Peter Goodfellow

Like many people, I admire birds. Perhaps envy.* I'd love to fly and be able to travel annually to distant continents. I'd like to be able to sing as well as some do. I'd enjoy being able to build nests as cleverly as they do, too.** British teacher Peter Goodfellow focuses on that latter talent in his recent book Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build.

You will notice that the word "nest" is not in the title. The subject of avian architecture includes many other kinds of structures built for breeding and raising young. Goodfellow describes them all, starting with simple scrape nests, caves, and holes and ending with the elaborate theaters built by bowerbirds to attract mates and avian food storage structures of woodpeckers. In each chapter, he provides blueprints for standard structures and step-by-step illustrations of birds at work. He also explains the benefits of the structures that are designed for specific purposes in challenging environments. What is particularly impressive is that the birds accomplish so much with just the material at hand, usually twigs, grasses, and mud. Some birds build quickly, while some others take months. And they do this all with just their beaks, breasts, and feet.

The highly illustrated text portion of Avian Architecture is just short of 150 pages when you subtract the title and verso pages. You may skim it pretty quickly, but I recommend taking the time to read the text and captions to learn some incredible facts about species worldwide. Either approach, however, will be pleasurable, as Avian Architecture is a beautiful, well-illustrated book.

Goodfellow, Peter. Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build. Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780691148496.

*Maybe just fruit and seed eaters. I wouldn't want to eat insects or worms and regurgitate them for my young.

**I still like playing with Lego's, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, etc.

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