Maurice Skeggs, NHBS customer from the UK, reviews this “superb” book.
“I bought this book after reading some rather flattering reviews and thought, well, if everybody’s praising it, there must be something about it! And what a pleasant surprise, this book exceeded my very high expectations. First of all, it is so painstakingly well researched yet written in such a brilliant and flawless manner. It must have taken ages to gather all that information. It covers everything related to birds like no book I’ve seen has ever done and really raises the bar. Secondly, it shows how deep the relationship between birds and man is, even in an island which is renowned to be hostile to birds, where things are now hopefully changing for the better.
The book comes from the pen of the author of Fatal Flight: The Maltese Obsession with Killing Birds, which in 1992 had exposed the horrific situation of hunting in Malta. This book now shows a chronicle of change, of shifting attitudes, acknowledging what has been achieved and listing what still needs to be done. It also shows the strong British and Victorian influences on Malta, a former colony which saw a lot of development under British rule but which neglected the protection of birds that was taking place back at home here in Britain. So we Brits have a part of the blame too!
The book shows how birds captured man’s thoughts and imagination, how birds pervaded metaphors, led to coining of expressions and proverbs. It shows brilliant photos of birds in everything from Maltese crockery to crochet, from antique embroidery of sacred vestments to illuminated manuscripts and birds in coats-of-arms of Maltese surnames. Brilliant photos of prehistoric bird models as well as the Medieval bas reliefs of falconry and hunting with cross bows are really unique. The book has what I believe is the first real history of falconry of the Maltese Islands, which goes way beyond the annual falcon that used to be given to Charles V as a token for giving Malta to the Knights of St John. This book documents it all, and in a very pleasant way.
The ornithological section, which makes up the second half of the book, is equally brilliant, with many original records and brilliant photos. The text that goes with each species gives old Maltese names that date back to the Middle Ages. Simply brilliant to see how they changed… or remained the same. This section too is infused with a lot of folklore about birds in Malta. The photos of decorated bird calls as well as those dealing with turtle dove trapping, are really beautiful and recount volumes on their own. I can go on and on about this invaluable tome, for with over 900 images and close to 500 pages, this is a veritable tome, an encyclopaedia about birds and man, primarily to do with Malta but saturated with parallels that each and every reader can find in his neighbourhood… So it’s about birds and us as much as it’s about the birds of Malta.”
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