Review: The Seabird’s Cry

I’ve had my eye on another of Adam Nicolson’s books (The Mighty Dead) for a while not but somehow managed to pick this one up first.

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It’s a book about birds. Sea birds.

The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson is divided into chapters which are all dedicated to a particular bird (or a couple of similar birds) that make their lives at the edges of our oceans. There’s a chapter for puffins (unsurprisingly, when you look at the cover), gulls, guillemots, shearwaters, albatross… you get the idea.

Beyond the wild, grey images on television documentaries or stories from friends and family of going to these wild places I’d not given a huge amount of thought to seabirds. Well, many thoughts beyond battering away a seagull from my fish and chips when visiting the seaside. But Adam Nicolson has an absolutely beautiful way with words and clearly has a deep running love for these birds.

Every bird has something special about them that Nicolson focuses on whether it is the fact that they use less energy flying through stormy weather than they would waddling to a cliff edge, or the incredible sense of smell they have, or the almost incomprehensible distances the birds travel for food. The writing really brings to life the amazing feats of these creatures and it has given me a new appreciation for them.

The author has also introduced me to the idea of Umwelt which is based on the theories of Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok and is the idea of ‘the world as it is experienced by a particular organism’. Nicolson does a wonderful job of demonstrating this idea throughout the book and hammers home with, through the gorgeously crafted writing,

Something else I learned along the way: puffins are way smaller than I thought! Almost every time I’ve seen them in pictures they’re stood on a cliff edge, standing watch at the border between the cliffs, the ocean, and the sky. I can’t recall having seen an image of a puffin alongside a person, or something else that I could use as a reference and always imagined them as being gull sized, or bigger.

As with many nature books Adam Nicolson doesn’t shy away from the damage that we as a species have caused to these seabirds and to the environment at large. However, I was pleased at Nicolson’s pragmatism when he was discussing this. Although we have done much damage to these birds there is yet hope as we plan new ways to try and help their numbers bounce back so, perhaps, all is not lost.

To end; this book was a beautifully written homage to seabirds. It was fascinating, delving into what makes these birds so special and demonstrating a way of perceiving the world that I was completely oblivious of and am now completely astounded by.  If you have any interest in sea birds, or any of the birds that have chapters on them, then I highly recommend you read this book. You will not be disappointed.


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