Cover Image: The Role of Birds in World War One

The Role of Birds in World War One

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Member Reviews

I am both an avid birder and well versed in military history.  As such, I was excited to read The Role of Birds in World War One.  While there are interesting segments - particularly the second chapter which describes the misguided wartime campaign in England to decimate the house sparrow - the book felt disjointed and stretched to find material.  The first chapter, about Lord Grey of Fallodon, failed to really link his passion for birds with the war, and also suffered from factual errors, particularly around his title and ancestry.  Sections about the role of birds in the fighting were of interest, though I found lists of deceased birders less so.  Really of interest to a narrow audience at best.
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Birdwatching brought joy and solace to young men facing death every day. The hobby was encouraged, as it boosted morale. Birds nested in guns and weren’t driven away by the noise of the guns. The birds continued to sing even as the shells fell around them. Especially interesting are comic observations, such as birds mimicking the sound of shrill shells, causing the men to dive for cover. Owls were adopted to hunt the rats swarming the trenches. 
While sparrows brought enjoyment to the troops, they were slaughtered at home because they were supposedly eating the nation’s food supplies. Feeding wild birds was illegal, punishable by a large fine. People didn’t differentiate and killed any small bird. Farmers wanted to deflect attention from their own failure to produce enough food.
Of less interest is the considerable text devoted to Foreign Secretary Edward Grey and his collection of wild fowl and the efforts to pass the Plumage Bill outlawing the trade in feathers.
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A hardcore little specialized history, this book was a little more intensive in its subject and coverage than I had anticipated. I enjoyed my readings despite them being a little tougher to chew on mentally, but I feel having some kind of visuals in a birders book generally helps me feel immersed as a newbie to the field.
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