cover image The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers

Adam Nicolson. Holt, $32 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-13418-9

In this moving exploration of 10 groups of seabirds, English writer Nicolson (Why Homer Matters) demonstrates that wonder about the natural world can be deepened by increasing one’s knowledge of it and that emotional wisdom can be reinforced by the acquisition of practical information. He blends insightful ethological observations with elements of the mythical and peppers his delivery of practical, premodern knowledge with poetic imagery. Nicolson paints the human-bird connection as intimate yet alien, writing of seabirds that their “gothic beauty is beyond touching distance” and a “miracle of otherness.” But he also immerses readers in the umwelt, or subjective world, of each bird without resorting to anthropomorphism, as when he describes the “odor landscape” that connects the shearwater to its phytoplankton food. Nicolson’s metaphorical language flows gracefully, with hints of the whimsical, and appeals to both the mind and the heart. While he takes ecological concerns seriously, his approach is as much a musing on the future as a call to action, placing humans in the role of participants in the natural world rather than in the roles of controllers or saviors. Nicolson combines a huge amount of scientific information with deeply emotional content and the net effect is moving and quietly profound. Illus. (Feb.)