Whether as sources of joy and pleasure to be fed, counted, and watched, as objects of sport to be hunted and killed, or as food to be harvested, wild birds evoke strong feelings.
Sean Nixon traces the transformation of these human passions for wild birds from the early twentieth century through the 1970s, detailing humans' close encounters with wild birds in Britain and the wider North Atlantic world. Drawing on a rich range of written sources, Passions for Birds reveals how emotional, subjective, and material attachments to wild birds were forged through a period of pronounced social and cultural change. Nixon demonstrates how, for all their differences, new traditions in birdwatching and conservation, field sports, and bird harvesting mobilized remarkably similar feelings towards birds. Striking similarities also emerged in the material forms that each of these practices used to bring birds closer to people – hides and traps, nets and ropes, and binoculars.
Wide ranging in scope, Passions for Birds sheds new light on the ways in which wild birds helped shape humans throughout the twentieth century, as well as how birds themselves became burdened with multiple cultural meanings and social anxieties over time.
1 ‘A Creed for Bird watching’: Bird Study and the New Bird Science 15
2 A Nation of Bird watchers? The Rise of Recreational Bird watching 48
3 ‘A Close-up View of Birds’: Nature Reserves, Conservation and Watching Birds 79
4 Landscapes of Loss: Wild Birds and Environmental Crisis 105
5 Wildfowling and Sporting Naturalism 134
6 ‘Princes of the Air’: Falconry and the Lure of Birds of Prey 167
7 Harvesting the Sea and the Air: Wild Birds, Food Customs, and Conservation 197
Sean Nixon is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex.
"Clearly argued, thorough, and wide-ranging, Passions for Birds challenges the conventional view that conservationist ideas simply replaced older, more visceral ones. Nixon argues further that one cannot intelligibly separate out the histories of conservation, natural history, and field sports, that they need to integrated in a single richer cultural history."
– Jeremy Mynott, author of Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience