| Richard Sale | Snowfinch Publishing | 2020 | Hardback | 392 Pages | Colour Photos, Colour Illustrations | ISBN: 9780957173248 | £49.99p |
The Publisher’s View:
It is not many years since most journeys along the UK’s motorway system involved at least one sighting of a small chestnut-coloured bird hanging motionless about the road verges. The bird was the Common Kestrel, its ‘hovering’, now officially called ‘flight-hunting’ to distinguish it from the true hovering of hummingbirds, being a characteristic that separated from the other raptors (birds of prey) that breed in the British Isles.
But times change. The management of motorway verges have made them less attractive as hunting grounds and, more importantly, the population of Kestrels has sharply declined, a decline which continues as the intensification of agriculture and the populations of other raptors increases. The Common Kestrel investigates that decline, after first exploring all aspects of the Kestrels’ life, from plumage and diet through breeding to survival. Data for this investigation were collected from across the Kestrel’s range, but also includes a four-year study in which video cameras were installed to watch breeding behaviour in a barn in southern England. A further study also investigated the flight of the falcons using the modern technology of inertial measurement units and hi-speed photography. Allied to excellent photography, the result is a comprehensive book on this most fascinating of small raptors.
Richard Sale is a physicist with a PhD in astrophysics, who now devotes his time to studying Arctic ecology and the flight dynamics of falcons. He has studied Merlins across the species’ range. With Eugene Potapov he co-authored The Gyrfalcon monograph which won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2006. More recently he co-authored Steller’s Sea Eagle with Vladimir Masterov and Michael Romanov which won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2019. His other books include the first field guide to birds and mammals of the Arctic, The Snowy Owl (again with Eugene Potapov), The Arctic: The Complete Story (recently republished as The Arctic, with photographs by himself and Norwegian photographer Per Michelsen), and the New Naturalist title Falcons.
Like its companion volume (Merlin) this is a very comprehensive study of our most familiar bird of prey. It draws upon years of academic ornithological study to look at its decline in the UK. Despite being a detailed scientific monograph, it is accessible and will be of interest to even a casual birder as well as a raptor specialist (although some will baulk at the hefty price). One reason it is so accessible is the use of very good images, both photographic and drawn. The author’s background in a completely different scientific tradition, from physics and aerodynamics gives him a unique perspective and is another reason it is so accessible. He has become a raptor specialist through studying the physics of their flight so combines scientific rigour with the amateur birder’s delight in birds. Rarely has such a combination resulted in iconic monographs.