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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Book Review: Ornithological Photographs

Book Review: Ornithological Photographs

By Tyler Austin

Being bound to the earth, birds have always been fascinating creatures for us as humans. Unable to comprehend the true beauty of their flight, we are limited to observing them from ground level or behind the windows of an airplane. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that science can teach us about what it's like to fly hundreds of feet in the air at a moment's notice.

The branch of zoology that’s dedicated to the study of birds is called Ornithology. This type of research often requires the humane capture of birds in order to properly study them and their habits. The scientists who acquire them use a trap called ‘mist nets,’ which are bunches of nylon or polyester mesh suspended between two poles (resembling a volleyball net). The net’s purpose is to capture the animals mid-flight so that they may be tagged, examined, and relocated if necessary.

Common Ground-dove. Columbina passerine

Common Ground-dove. Columbina passerine

Todd R. Forsgren is a photographer and the child of two very passionate bird photographers. Recently he released a photobook titled, Ornithological Photographs, that is dedicated to photographing birds just after they’re caught in one of the mist nets.

In these vulnerable moments, the birds realize that they’re trapped and react depending on factors like size, breed, and general instinct, meaning different species of birds tend to have differing reactions. Some of the smaller birds freeze and refuse to move until they’re released while others screech, fight, and struggle to break free.

The images are initially disturbing as you see the fear in the eyes of a newly caged animal but soon after curiosity takes over. Inspired by the work of John James Audubon and his series Birds of America (1838), Forsgren is able to give us a view of these birds that we couldn’t dream of getting on our own. Being able to see them so close and in such detail is rare and one of the reasons the pictures are so captivating.

White-necked Jacobin. Florisuga mellivora

White-necked Jacobin. Florisuga mellivora

The chapters that conclude the book carry information relevant to the different species of birds featured and the way that they’re caught. For example, in one chapter there’s an in depth history of catching birds with mist nets and the benefits it’s provided for science; such as information on evolution, speciation and migration patterns, making the book as educational as it is stimulating.

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