These days the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has over a million active members. Watching birds is one of the most popular of all leisure pursuits. For many people it offers a tranquil day out at a picturesque nature reserve with a nice tea shop; for many more – the fabled "twitchers" beloved of media jokes – it is a fiercely competitive sport that requires a pager, a fast car and enormous stamina. It is a hobby that has spawned a big and lucrative industry, to supply anything from birding holidays in South America to state-of-the-art telescopes and even bird-call ringtones for a mobile phone. Kenneth Clarke is a birdwatcher; so, apparently, is Jarvis Cocker. Why, and how, have people watched birds through the ages? Stephen Moss's book traces the history and development of this singular pastime, on both sides of the Atlantic, all the way from Gilbert White, the country parson who wrote The Natural History of Selborne in the 18th century, through the British servicemen who studied Black Redstarts from their German prisoner-of-war camp, to today's driven "life-listers" and twisters who think nothing of hurtling the length of the UK by planes, automobiles and even boats in pursuit of a Grey-Tailed Tattler temporarily landfallen in the Shetland Isles.
Stephen Moss is the producer of BBC2's Birding with Bill Oddie and Bill Oddie Goes Wild. He also writes the Birdwatch column in the Guardian, and writes regularly for BBC Wildlife and Birdwatching magazines. His other books include How to Birdwatch, Gardening for Birds and Blokes and Birds. He lives in London.
"Eye-opening [...] An affectionate, enterprising book, which proves that birdwatchers can be as instructive to watch as birds."
– John Carey, Sunday Times, 15 August 2004
"Wonderful [...] beautifully told. He packs his pages with fascinating, often hilarious anecdotes and information. A surprise and a delight."
– Val Hennessy, Daily Mail, Critic's Choice 30 July 2004