| Birds & Flowers – An Intimate 50 Million Year Relationship | By Jeff Ollerton | Pelagic Publishing | 2024 | Hardback | 328 pages, 16 plates with 28 colour photos and colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781784274511 |

The Publisher’s View:

Hummingbirds, and the balletic ways in which they feed on flowers, are familiar to most people. But they belong to just one of at least 74 bird families that are known, or suspected, to be pollinators. Relationships between plants and birds first emerged at least 50 million years ago and over time have influenced the evolution of both groups.

This ground-breaking book is the first to deal with pollinating birds in all their diversity, involving almost 1,390 avian species interacting with tens of thousands of different plants. It rescues them from being novelties of natural history and explores these interactions in all their evolutionary and ecological significance. Pollinating birds have intricate lives that are often highly dependent on flowers, and the plants themselves are at the whim of birds for their reproduction. This makes them important players within many ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, dry grasslands, temperate woodlands, coastal mangroves and oceanic islands.

Bird–flower relationships are threatened by disease, habitat destruction and climate change. Some of the birds are already extinct. Yet there are optimistic stories to be told about conservation and restoration projects that reveal the commitment of people to preserving these vital ecological connections. In addition, as a source of cultural inspiration with a history stretching back millennia, pollinating birds and their flowers are part of the ongoing relationship between humanity and the rest of nature.

The Author: As a scientist and educator for over 30 years, Jeff Ollerton has developed an international profile in the field of biodiversity, focused particularly on understanding and conserving plant-pollinator interactions. His highly-cited, ground-breaking research has been used by national and international agencies to support efforts to conserve pollinators and their pollination services.

Other Views:

“A tale of two of our best-loved categories of wildlife, their elaborate and often surprising interactions, and the dedicated scientists trying to untangle them. An absorbing, enriching account by a reliable (and very well-travelled!) expert witness.”
– Ian Carter, author of Rhythms of Nature and The Hen Harrier’s Year

“Ollerton gives us a masterful perspective on the biodiversity and evolution of the pollination of flowers by birds. A superbly written collection of vivid stories, plenty of knowledge, amusement, and passion for nature within a perfectly-blended cocktail of ornithology and botany.”
– Professor Pedro Jordano, evolutionary ecologist, Doñana Biological Station

“Since the dawn of life on Earth, living things have co-evolved with our planetary environment and with each other. It is this interconnectedness that, almost paradoxically, underlies both the resilience and fragility of our world. There is perhaps no better example than the remarkable relationships between birds and flowering plants over the eons, adeptly explored by Ollerton in Birds & Flowers. Go on this amazing journey through time with Jeff and gain a better appreciation for our wondrous and beautiful living planet, the threat it is under today from human disturbance, and what we can still do to preserve it.”
– Michael E. Mann, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Earth & Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from the Earth’s Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis

“A charming and eye-opening exploration of the colourful interactions between birds and flowers, carried along by Ollerton’s engaging enthusiasm and wealth of entertaining stories.”
– Dave Goulson, author of Silent EarthThe Garden Jungle and A Sting in the Tale

“Ollerton takes us on a journey through deep time – wading through Jurassic forests – back to the dawn of an intimate relationship that evolved between birds and flowers: a story played out by hitchhikers, drunks and killers. Birds & Flowers challenges our perception of birds as mere natural curiosities, and puts them centre-stage in a quietly significant drama that first unfolded 50 million years ago: pollination.”
– Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director of Oxford Botanic Garden and author of Chasing Plants

“Did birds start pollinating 110 million years ago? Why does Europe have so few bird pollinators? Why do some birds eat or destroy flowers? Does providing nectar feeders reduce the pollination of nearby wild flowers? Jeff Ollerton, a leading expert in pollination, tackles these and innumerable other questions in this enjoyable historical and ecological safari through the fascinating world of pollinators and pollinated plants.”
– William Sutherland, Department of Zoology and St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge

Fatbirder View:

I visited Fiji en route to the antipodes and arrived the day after a raging tropical storm had ravaged the main island. In my brief stay I saw only a handful of birds, mostly seabirds that had taken shelter. Almost all the trees had been blasted to the extent that their fronds had gone and they stood like living telegraph poles. In the lee of my hotel some scrubby banana trees survived… and provided my with a quarter of my Fiji bird list… a nectar drinker that spent most of its time half buried down the throat of a banana flower. Since then I’ve been fortunate to see hummingbirds and honeyeaters and many other birds that rely on flowers to feed and yet I’ve given little thought to that relationship… maybe it’s coming from a country where few birds exhibit the relationship over and above those whose habit of eating flower-buds has them persecuted by cherry growers.

So, I recognise that this is an important contribution to avian lore. The fact that as many as a quarter of species might have a relationship with flowers certainly came as a surprise to me and that hundreds of birds are pollinators even more so. Given this, it is surprising that no-one had written such a volume before.

I’ve little to add to the fulsome praise of other reviewers. Except that the writers style is surprisingly down to earth and chatty… having trudged through treacle with some academic works that in itself is a recommendation.

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