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Review: Hawks in Flight, 2nd edition

September 26, 2012
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Let’s get the most crucial question out of the way first.  With the recent AOU taxonomy revisions seeing the falcons moved away from the rest of the diurnal raptors and now nestled in between the parrots and the passerines, shouldn’t this book be titled “Hawks and Falcons in Flight”?

It’s only right, after all, that the birds are treated together in this way.  As raptor-loving birders take their places atop mountain ridges from Duluth, Minnesota, to Verecruz, Mexico, their quarry, though taxonomically separated b the recently accepted chasm, are funneling through in equal measure.  We may get used to seeing falcons as a wholly different group of birds – and, as so many of these changes are finalized, we may soon be unable to see them as anything but – but in our minds they’ll always be associated with the hawks and eagles spiritually if no longer scientifically.

That conundrum addressed, it’s time now to turn our attention to the latest, and perhaps most highly anticipated, raptor specific book on the bookshelves of hawkwatching hotspots coast to coast.  The second iteration of David Sibley, Pete Dunne, and Clay Sutton’s much-loved classic Hawks in Flight.

Having never had a copy of the first edition, I feel like I’m not in any position to compare the two.  I’m told by the press release that this version is completely reworked, offering more of David Sibley’s iconic illustrations, more of Pete Dunne silky smooth prose and more of Clay Sutton’s perfect photos excellent technical writing. mostly in the form of the thankful addition of several range-restricted species not mentioned in the original edition.  Much of the original text has been retained as well as all of Sibley’s pen and ink illustrations.

For bird books, I am often of the opinion that more is not necessarily better, but Hawks in Flight, now about 25% bigger than before, doesn’t read like a book packed with facts for facts sake.  Call it the economy of style, but every bit of information feels essential, which is precisely how you’d want it.  Sibley is simply wonderful at field ready illustrations, and Dunne, though a bit curmudgeonly in his older years, is a superb nature writer.  Both are at their best here.

Notably, in the over 20 years since the first edition was published, several other hawk specific guides have entered the market.  Jerry Liguori’s two titles, Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance being the most notable. For books covering the same subject, they’re surprisingly complementary in terms of the approaches they take.  Perhaps it says something about the enormous influence of the first edition of Hawks in Flight that Liguori’s tack was to approach hawks on the edge of identifiability, at odd angles or at incredible distances.  He fills in the gaps all the while ceding the ground to Dunne et al.  And rightly so,  because as good as Liguori’s books are, this one is nothing short of the quintessential hawk book.  No other since, and possibly in the future will touch it in terms of being the book you need when introducing a prospective birder to the esoteric world of hawk-watching.

I’m heading out to do a hawkwatch in South Carolina this weekend. I know which book I’ll be certain to have in my back seat.

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a review copy.

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  1. Review Roundup: September, 2012

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