cover image A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds

A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds

Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal. Simon & Schuster, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982184-55-1

In this eye-opening account, married duo Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal, retired journalists and avid birders, survey efforts to combat the decline in the North American bird population. In response to a 2019 study that found there are about three billion fewer birds today than 50 years ago because of climate change and habitat loss, the Gyllenhaals hit the road in an RV to visit “where the most severe problems are and witness the rescues, research, successes, and failures” of those trying to replenish the continent’s flocks. The colorful characters they met include the chief scientist at a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the passenger pigeon back from extinction, the masterminds behind Hawaii’s plan to sterilize malaria-carrying mosquitoes that kill the islands’ honeycreepers, and the biologists who track Florida scrub-jays by tagging them with transmitters “the size of a paper clip.” Readers looking for signs of hope will find some in the eclectic measures described, which showcase the remarkable ingenuity of those working to save the birds—one couple, for instance, developed a device that identifies the species of birds in the area by analyzing birdsongs and sends the data to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Birders will be unsettled, and by the end, inspired. (Apr.)