cover image The Birder's Bug Book the Birder's Bug Book

The Birder's Bug Book the Birder's Bug Book

Gilbert Waldbauer. Harvard University Press, $31 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-674-07461-3

Insects and their kin--spiders, mites, lice--have had a 150-million-year association with birds, notes Waldbauer (Insects Through the Seasons), an entomologist and birder, and they have had a profound effect on one another's evolutionary path. Birds have evolved strategies for capturing insects while insects have evolved ways to protect themselves from birds. Waldbauer gives a lucid, engaging account of mutual exploitation in a complex ecosystem while evincing a sneaking admiration for bugs. He describes birds whose ""profession"" is to eat insects; ""choosy"" blood-sucking insects that feed on only certain birds; parasites living on birds; and the birds' efforts to get rid of them. Also detailed are species of ants and spiders that eat nestlings. Birds attack parasitic insects by anting (rubbing ants over their bodies), dust-bathing and preening; some species even bring aromatic leaves to their nest. Others enlist the support of bees and wasps by building their nests near those insects' habitats for protection against predators. Because this is a birder's book, Waldbauer devotes a chapter to bugs that eat people--mosquitoes, ants, horseflies, ticks, fleas--and our methods of trying to control them. But this informative work is not just for birders; any student of natural history will find it illuminating. 35 color illustrations, not seen by PW. (Sept.)