19 DECEMBER 1931, Page 24

The Art of Bird Watching

A QUITE new angle for the study of birds has been given by Mr. Nicholson, in spite of his youth, or perhaps because of it. Within a few years he has shared in special trips of enquiry to many parts of the world, including Greenland and Guiana ; and the results achieved have owed much to the ingenuity of his technique and his manner of approach. He does not watch birds, like young men in France, "merely for wantonness." His determination is to find out. He has the detective spirit in high power. He desires to make a census of heron or rook, to map the route of migration, to find a definite standard method of transliterating song. In this book, where he may be said to unravel the secrets of his own technique, he shows how wide is the curiosity of his inquisitive mind by raising some two score of direct questions on the unsolved problems of bird congregations. Years ago Mr. Edmund Selous wrote a book called Bird Watching, which was chiefly a record of very minute observations. Mr. Nicholson does not so much tell us how to use our eyes as emphasize the purpose and intention. When we know what we want to find out, we can watch with treble efficiency. A good example is his chapter on bird-marking. Most bird ringers think only of migration. It is perhaps even more interesting to discover whether birds, our own or the migrants, mate for life, or how the young split up or whether families in-breed. He seeks a great and wide co-operation of bird watchers, in which each observer asks himself the question : "Which of the many small puzzles of bird life is likely to be most fruitfully studied in this particular place where I happen to be ? " Mr. Witherby, who publishes the book, is himself of the same school of observers. Some of the suggestions as to the possibility of travellers by rail and road making rough bird censuses as they tear down the valleys are rather weak and unpersuasive ; but with this exception the book will help even the oldest and most highly experienced bird watcher to give precision to his field work, and may inspire him to an ambition to contribute definitely to the general sum of knowledge. No other book covers the same ground.