Shorebirds in Action: an introduction to waders and their behaviour

Published on 31 January 2019 in Book reviews

By Richard Chandler

Whittles Publishing, 2017

Pbk, 248pp; over 400 colour photographs

ISBN 978-1-84995-355-9; £21.95

Already well known for his photographic field guides on shorebirds, Richard Chandler now delves further into the lives of these birds. Shorebirds in Action comprises a large selection of photos as well as an engaging text. About 180 shorebird species are illustrated, around 80% of the world’s total, with photos taken from all continents except Antarctica (although there is a photo of the Antarctic-breeding Snowy Sheathbill Chionis albus, it was taken in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina).

In the text, the author first describes the various families that make up the Charadriiformes, using the IOC’s sequence and names. Button-quails, a recent addition to the order, are mentioned briefly, and of the taxa in the suborder Lari, skuas, auks, terns and gulls are excluded. After a description of plumages and moult, further chapters, despite the subtitle of the book, cover a mix of morphology, physiology and behaviour, including bill types, feeding methods, preening, temperature regulation, salt glands, breeding biology, territoriality, migration, roosting and predator avoidance. Each chapter concludes with a few references. Coverage of the various topics is often brief, giving a general overview; however, the book also includes some case studies, such as that of the female Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica that made a record-breaking continuous flight of almost 12,000 km from Alaska to New Zealand in nine days. 

The mainly excellent photos, many in double-page spreads, are a stand-out feature of the book. This collection of photos alone is an impressive achievement, covering not only different species and plumages but also a diverse array of behaviours, some well-known (such as the aerial displays of Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus) and some less conspicuous ones (such as a series of photos showing rhynchokinesis – the flexing of the mandibles which aids both the manipulation of prey and preening). The captions are generally extended descriptions complementing rather than simply illustrating the book’s text; as well as explaining the bird’s behaviour, many also comment on plumage and other characteristics related to sex, age, subspecies and species, which makes the photos a useful aid to identification.

The book is attractively produced (though I sometimes felt I had to search for the text in between the photos). A pleasure to browse through, it can be enjoyed for its photos alone, but the text is also very readable, providing insight into the biology of shorebirds. It is highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about this fascinating group of birds than an identification guide alone can offer; and it is sure to inspire readers to take a closer look at the next shorebird they see.

Angela Turner