Thursday, January 01, 2009

Book Note: Birds in Flight

I recently had the pleasure of reading Birds in Flight: The Art and Science of How Birds Fly by Carrol L. Henderson. This coffee-table book combines an informative text with beautiful photographs by the author. Henderson was captivated by flight when he was growing up, and his interest was increased by his experience as an Air Force pilot. His fascination is evident throughout the text.

The first part, "The Art of Birds in Flight," shows a series of photographs of flying birds from many bird orders. Each photograph is accompanied by a paragraph or two describing the location or circumstances in which Henderson took the photograph. Many of the photographs in this section are blurred or grainy, or otherwise not as sharp as one would like. The blurred photographs are still intriguing, however, because they show unusual behaviors – such as birds flying upside down.

A second section, "Aerodynamic Principles," explains the mechanics of avian flight. The section covers both basic principles of flight and how the parts of a bird's body – wing shape, bones, feathers, tail – contribute to its ability to fly. Most interesting is a discussion of how the varied shapes of bird wings and tails affect their flight and are adapted to specific lifestyles. Diagrams illustrate the forces that act on a bird's body, and photographs show the variety of feather and wing shapes.

The final section, "On the Wing," demonstrates how birds put their adaptations to use. Once again, this section is beautifully illustrated with photographs showing birds in the process of taking off, landing, or executing other maneuvers. Each aerial maneuver is influenced not just by the bird's physical structure, but also how it positions and flexes its wings. Each bird species has its own distinct methods for taking off, level flight, and landing.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about how birds fly.

Carrol L. Henderson, Birds in Flight: The Art and Science of How Birds Fly. Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2008. Pp. 160; photographs, diagrams, bibliography, index. $25.00 cloth.