-by Richard Cannings
A flock of praise for An Enchantment of Birds
Biologist, naturalist, and bird enthusiast Richard Cannings’ celebrated oeuvre isn’t just for the birds. Whether you are a devout birdwatcher with binoculars and field book in hand, or someone who just enjoys learning more about the winged beauties that frequent the feeder outside your window, Cannings’ beautifully written compilation of memorable sightings and stories of birds native to North America will delight and divert bird aficionados of any degree.
Harmoniously and skilfully, Cannings complements a delightful menagerie of personal encounters with his fine-feathered friends, with specifications of their niches, habitats spanning the Atlantic to Pacific coasts, identifying characteristics, patterns of behaviour, remarkable details of anatomy, and function in the ecosystem.
From the Preface, where he recounts the beginnings of his fascination (“Once the spell has been cast, you forever experience the world differently, eyeing forests as if you were a woodpecker looking for nesting snags…”), to his childhood memories of early morning meadowlark songs drifting through his window, along with family hikes through woodlands and prairies, Cannings speaks candidly and affectionately about his lifetime love of birds and nature in general. “Whatever the origins of this interest, it is indeed an enchantment”, Cannings writes.
These charming anecdotes and reminisces, while comprehensive, are a refreshing contrast to a birder’s guidebook detailing every statistic in deliberate textbook fashion. Its pages offer an up-close perspective and glimpse into the lives of these enchanting creatures. In addition, beautifully rendered sketches from illustrator Donald Gunn serve as a striking and almost-poetic complement to Cannings’ expressive meditations on these wonders of wildlife.
Whether it is a rare sighting of the remarkably plumed white-headed woodpecker, the majestic bald eagle, and the flammulated owl (“one of those creatures that you do not see unless you go looking for them”), or the frequently sighted crow, bluebird and chickadee, Cannings’ lyrical scrutiny brings these marvels of creation from the page in startling familiarity and clarity. Other birds captured between the pages of Enchantment, include the pygmy nuthatch, calliope hummingbird, evening grosbeak, bohemian waxwing, white-tailed ptarmigan, tufted puffin, and northern gannet, to mention just a few.
The author expresses his hope that “their stories will touch you as well and perhaps begin to cast a spell that will last a lifetime.” Without a doubt, Richard Cannings’ informative, yet delicately tender, labour-of-love, An Enchantment of Birds, will be sure to do just that — not unlike the subjects of his very own musings.
—Reviewed for Douglas & McIntyre Publishing