30 Days Wild – Day 20 – Cuckoo by Nick Davies

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_20A book review
I’ve actually been reading this book since before 30 Days Wild began, but finished it this evening. Short version. It’s brilliant.
Long version. Good nature writing must, for me, meet some or all of the following criteria:

It must be visual
This doesn’t necessarily mean illustrated, but the language must make you see and feel what is being described. A sensory experience.

It must tell a good story
In other words it’s no good just ticking off the facts. It must be engaging.

It must have strong science
It’s not at all critical for a good piece of nature writing to be scientific. Not in a technical sense. But if you are going to go scientific then the science must be good, and ideally something distinct.

It must hold the interest
The most important. I don’t want to read something because I should. I want to read it because it makes me want to read it.

Nick Davies’ book on the cuckoo, subtitled ‘Cheating by nature’ meets all these challenges.

It would be easy for a book detailing thirty years of research into the cuckoo to be laborious and dry. Instead, by unpicking a different element of the birds behaviour in each chapter and by punctuating with references and tales from 300 years of natural history, you are drawn into the study.

The insight into the life of a bird easily demonised and barely understood is astonishingly intimate. You are with the cuckoo, and with the reed warblers that play host.

As Davies unlocks the behaviour, biology and evolution that created this beautiful and entrancing parasite he opens up the scientific method and why it is such a powerful tool.

Sadly he must also address the decline in numbers of this most fascinating and enigmatic of birds, and most of us who have been birding long enough have noted this disappearance (I’ve personally seen two in three years).

Whether you see yourself as scientist, naturalist, or just a lover of the outside world, this book will have something for you. It deserves the awards it has received and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The best book of the genre I have read in years.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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