100 Flying Birds: photographing the mechanics of flight

By Peter Cavanagh

Firefly Books, 2021

Hbk, 320pp; many colour photographs

ISBN 978-0-2281-0333-2; £29.99

I was expecting 100 Flying Birds to be something of a coffee-table book, designed to showcase a set of attractive photos of beautiful birds – and, indeed, to a large part that is what it is – but there is considerably more to this book than just the pretty pictures.

In addition to his photography skills, the author has a background in aircraft aerodynamics, anatomy and biomechanics – quite the skilled individual, and the perfect person to talk about the mechanics of avian flight. Each photograph takes up the entirety of the right-hand page, while the left-hand page gives information on the species featured, the location the photograph was taken in, a detailed set of camera/lens settings, and a few paragraphs that vary in subject from the life history of the bird(s) in the photo, including migration, moult and feeding techniques, to technical aspects of how the photograph was obtained. Where appropriate, subspecific scientific names are given, while measurements are presented in both imperial and metric. 

The main sets of photos are divided into chapters, and each chapter starts with an opening few pages that discuss the group of birds in the chapter (hummingbirds, ‘large waterbirds’, raptors, etc.) as well as their significance in culture past and present. The book ends with a sort of illustrated appendix, briefly explaining terms that appeared in the book, from dynamic range and mirrorless cameras to locomotion of aracaris Pteroglossus and taxonomy in the racket-tail hummingbirds Ocreatus.

All in all, this feels like a complete, authoritative and interesting book with heaps of information hung off the main attraction, the (just over) 100 stunning photographs of birds in flight.

Stephen Menzie

Issue 6
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