BOOKS: Bird Hand Book

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:

Bird Hand Book
Photographs by Victor Schrager, text by A.S. Byatt
Graphis (307 5th Ave, 10th floor, New York, NY 100016), 2001.
128 pages, hardcover. $60.00.

Beautifully photographed, as one would expect from from
Victor Schrager, in sepia rather than stark black-and-white or the
often explosive color of the birds depicted, Bird Hand Book at first
glance appears to offer nothing more provocative than just 98 birds
perching on human hands, with a few words beside each bird by
novelist A.S. Byatt or quoted from someone famous.

“The slaughter of birds in the great shooting parties of the
Edwardian upper classes in Britain has been seen as a precursor of
the slaughter of the young men in the First World War,” Byatt erupts
unexpectedly on page 98, then extensively quotes Rachel Carson on
pesticide poisonings of birds.
In sepia, the “ordinary” gull on page 102 is among the most
brightly hued birds in the book. Then comes the unexpectedly regal
leghorn hen on page 103, while Byatt recites a lineage extending
from the Golden Age of India though Roman times to the present. Two
hens of other breeds appear, followed by two pages without art or
ornament describing how hens are raised and slaughtered.
Pages 109 and 109 juxtapose the much despised double-crested
cormorant with the black-bellied plover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has proposed subjecting the double-crested cormorant to an
open-ended “depredation order” in 24 states, to allow state wildlife
managers to kill cormorants at will if they allegedly harm fish or
The concluding pages turn to a casual discussion of “birding.”
Though the point is never baldly stated, Bird Hand Book
calls for thought about the treatment of birds at human hands, and
seeks appreciation of all birds, not just the favored species whom
birders travel the world to see and count.

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