Nest building is an interesting behaviour which though found in many of taxa is at its most diverse and fascinating in the birds. Whereas in other taxa of similar rank nest construction as a habit is poorly represented in term of number of species involved nearly every species of bird builds a nest of some kind.
In this book Mike Hansell first takes us on a tour of the nesting habits of the worlds fauna as an introduction to a more detailed study of the What, Where, Why and How of avian nest construction. Surprisingly for someone as well versed in entomology as he is he completely ignores the small insect order Embioptera commonly known as web spinners. Their silk may not make it into many birds nests but they definitely build nests. He also fails to mention the Foraminifera at all.
He looks in detail at questions such as. What do birds build their nests out of? Then follows this up with the why relating to substances that are used by many different families such as silk. He also looks at where birds build there nests and sums up what little is known about why they make these choices, is weather or predation the primary selective factor. Other questions to be examined are: Why do different birds build different sorts of nests?; What is the functionality of different nest designs?; and What are the costs and benefits to reusing old nests?. The costs of nest building are examined in chapter 6 and chapter 8 is a special detailed survey of Bowerbirds and their constructions, though actually nothing is said of the nests built by the females. The book ends with a discussion of what can we know about the evolution of nests and nest construction techniques.
A couple of things I found surprising were the failure of the Hornbills to even get a mention and the lack of comment on the perennial reuse of nests by larger water birds such as storks, herons and cormorants. Nevertheless this is a worthy effort and fills a gap in the literature quite nicely, an interesting read even if you are not a research ornithologist.
Wetlands provide us with some of the most exciting places on the planet in which to view birds. The grand spectacle of huge flocks of wildfowl or waders wheeling overhead and interacting freely with their natural environment endows nature with many of its vital and stimulating moments.
Quite apart from their beauty and recreational and economic importance, these birds are excellent indicators of water quality and measures of biodiversity. But how do they use wetland habitats, and how can we best conserve and maintain them for the future?
This book will be of great benefit to the student researcher or professional conservationist as well as providing much useful information for those just simply interested in wetland birds and their associated habitats. At this juncture it must be stated that this book has a distinct North American bias and as such may have a limited appeal for many European readers.
The great strength of this book is that the author begins right at the beginning. His explanation of the basic precepts of ecology is lucidly described and will be of great value to those who have little or no knowledge of this fascinating branch of science. Later chapters tackle the complex patterns of the ecology of wetland birds by identifying the patterns of habitat use and typical bird communities that result from the use of resources such as food, cover and breeding sites. The book culminates with an exploration of conservation and management strategies that provides basic and practical information on bird-habitat relationships that will be of great benefit to researchers, landowners, and birders alike.
For those who need to research further into the ever-increasing complexity of water birds and wetland ecology will find at the end of each chapter a generous section of useful reference/further reading materials which relate directly to the foregoing chapter content.
I normally prefer textbooks of this nature to be hardbound because they are better able to stand the rigours of misuse heaped upon them by careless students. My 'softback' review copy, however, was extremely well bound and a joy to use.
I really enjoyed reading this well written and researched book and would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more of this fascinating subject.