Mary Warnement's Reviews > The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers

The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: england, non-fiction, science, subway, bedside, literature, natural-history

p. 3 Nicolson was inspired by a poem of Seamus Heaney

What came first, the seabird's cry or the soul
imagined in the dawn cold when it cried?

My superficial impression was of the British upper class which seem either lounging & awaiting cocktail service or paddling to an uninhabited island to rough it as their summer getaway. Nicolson has written an intelligent description, combining summaries scientific and literary of 10 birds, accompanied by personal observation, photos, and paintings. Each chapter opens with a painting of each of the birds by Kate Boxer.

I selected the British edition because the cover features the painting of the Puffin with his orange webbed feet and cheeks. He recalled Penguin books for children and made me smile. But Nicolson's book explained (67) the puffin's "life stands outside the cuteness in which we want to envelope it." Just the reminder I needed.

Nicolson opens with an anecdote that draws in the reader, all our assumptions and welcomes us to listen. He relays how he was asked his favorite seabird and received this reaction, "Ah yes, they're delicious roast, aren't they?" Nicolson sees the bird's beauty but also recognizes their brutality. And there are some brutal stories that seem straight out of mythology rather than scientific observation. Infanticide, siblicide, cannabalism.

15 "The aim of this book, using tradition and science as a kind of twin pronged tuning fork, is to bring together some of those modern revelations with the older understanding that seabirds are somehow symbolic of the state of ocean and world."

19 Jacob von Uexkill: a bird's Umwelt "a self-centered subjective world which represents only a small tranche of all available worlds." 20 Each creature has a unique and independent meaning world. Humans need to understand we are not the only ones with a worldview. We need to know there are plural, Umwelten. We need empathy for other animals.

385-6 Innenwelt [Those are the pages I've written but the book ends at 355, so I've made an error there.

[Why don't humans have a breeding season?]

98 1869 Sea Bird Preservation Act

145 Gulls are junk food birds and reflect humans

151 Guillemot cp Venetian Carnival mask

155 Share Beston quote from The Outermost House with Joe.

165 Land birds versus sea birds

184 "collapse of being"

185 Nicolson helps put a ring on a shag for scientific purposes and calls it a "shackle" not on the bird--because its weight is negligible--but on the idea of the bird.

188 Franz de Waal: "Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?"

201-2 Nicolson's description of the shearwater alternating dipping its wings in flight is beautiful.
201 "calligraphy of beauty"

223 Birds use an odor map

238-9Nazco Booby is one messed up bird

246 "existence clenched in hate"

255 Nicolson argues that cons outweighs pros, but why conclude that? Humans don't always act in own self-interest, why should we expect other animals won't occasionally behave in ways that are not in theirs?

278 Bird drawings in caves show that humans could travel to distant islands (where the birds were located) 20,000 years ago.

301 ff Coleridge, Wordsworth, Melville, Baudelaire

His last chapter outlines the sad facts of what seems a drastic decline in seabird populations. What number did he share? Over 140,000 bird species have gone extinct? But his last chapter ends hopefully, and not just with his comment that "no doubt, in our present catastrophe," there will be survivors. On the Shiants, his own remote island getaway off the coast of Scotland that his father bought and where he seems to have developed and honed his interest in seabirds. There is resiliency in seabird life and if humans take action to counter the damage humans have done, then perhaps there is hope.

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Reading Progress

May 2, 2018 – Shelved
May 2, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
May 3, 2018 – Started Reading
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: england
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: science
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: subway
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: bedside
May 22, 2018 – Shelved as: literature
May 22, 2018 – Finished Reading
May 29, 2019 – Shelved as: natural-history

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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message 1: by Kristin (new) - added it

Kristin I'm going to have to read this based on your very interesting review!

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