Book Review
    April 2009

Birds in Flight

Birds in Flight: The Art and Science of How Birds Fly, by Carrol L. Henderson, Voyageur Press, 400 First Avenue North, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55401, 8.5Ē x 10Ē, 160 pages, 150 color photos, 17 diagrams, $25.00.

Carrol Henderson is a wildlife biologist with the Minnesota Division of Natural Resources, a nature photographer, and birding tour leader around the world.  He is of particular interest to northern Utah birders as having been the keynote speaker and a tour leader at the 2006 UOS conference in Brigham City. 

           This is definitely not another field guide, but more of an illustrated text on birds, feathers, and flying, as well as being along the order of a coffee-table book.  There is a Foreword by Scott Weidensaul, who is the featured speaker at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival in May 2009, followed by Chapter 1, which is A Gallery of Birds in Flight - 38 pages of Hendersonís photography of dozens of different species in various flight modes.  Birds included are hummingbirds, Andean condor, albatrosses, hoatzin, shorebirds, herons, and hawks.  Being a pilot, he also compares birds with aircraft.

         Subsequent chapters deal with Aerodynamic Principles, Feathers and Bones, Wings, Tails, Taking Flight, Types of Flight, and the Art of Landing, all profusely illustrated by Hendersonís and a few othersí photos, plus some informative diagrams and tables.

         Under Aerodynamics, he explains Bernoulliís Principle - how birds and airplanes fly by virtue of their wing structures, using thrust and drag, and wings as propellors.  He also explains how different wings are designed to propel birds in specific ways.  He explains how a wingís aspect ratio as well as wing loading are important for getting a bird into then keeping it in the air.

         When discussing wings, Henderson features the alula and explains what its function is and provides several photographic examples.  This is a good example of many aspects of bird flight that are taught, through description and photography.  He defines six types of wings and what they are prepared to do and how they are used.  Much of what he describes may not be new to many birders, but his approach with variations is useful.  He even goes so far as to mention what black wingtips are good for.

         Henderson also discusses the concept of birds actually taking flight, from dropping down from a perch to gain velocity, to rising perpendicularly, to running 100 yards along a lake before becoming airborne, as well as several other types.  He mentions a detail that many of us have observed -- that when a hummingbird wants to move an inch or two along a twig, it has to fly up and to the side even that short of a distance, because it canít walk along the twig.  Its feet are only designed for clutching, not walking.

         Types of flight are taught, including flapping, gliding, soaring, hovering, wind hovering, and pattering, again with numerous photos describing each type and variant.

         The book is edited quite well; I found only two or three typos.  The index is quite complete, although it could have been edited better, there were several indentation defects that should have been caught.  When discussing Wing Loading he says that ďWing loading is calculated by dividing the weight of a bird by the total surface area of both wings.Ē when it should be the other way around.  The written formula and examples he provides, however, are correct.  The typeface is easy to read and the paper quality is excellent.

         The book is undoubtedly worth $25, considering the 150 color photos; in fact, Iím surprised it isnít more.  About half the photos are of North American birds,   The remainder are largely of African, Australasian, and South American species.  Most of the photos are excellent - both as to pictorial quality and action.  Almost all, as one would imagine, are of birds flying, taking off, or landing.

Reviewed by Steve Carr


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