Bill Bailey 2016. Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to British Birds. London: Quercus, 223 pp.
This witty book is also deceptively informative and a joy to read. It also has the flavour of something that Bill Bailey could have written rather quickly. Except that it is the kind of book that could have only have been written by someone who has spent decades observing birds. So not “rather quickly”. Probably it was a rather longer project in the writing too, although I read it in a couple of evenings despite intending to dip into species by species according to mood (probably that is also how it was written?).
Bill Bailey has selected 51 British birds to write about, and each gets a few pages of writing and some idiosyncratic Bailey sketches. (There are about 600 species on the UK bird list and the RSPB Guide currently treats about half that many species.) The author has been careful not to arrange the birds systematically (so as not to be mistaken for some kind of field guide?). Bailey is also keen to write about and celebrate the commonplace (Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, Mallard) as well as thowing in a few tricky birdwatching targets (Bittern, Dipper, Red Kite). There are plenty of snippets of information of the kind that would be valuable in a natural history version of Pointless, such as explaining the derivation of the word “decoy” and describing the very first flight of the Swift (very long). Bill Bailey seems to be especially keen on gulls (3 species are included) and on corvids (6 species). But he is especially keen on everything else too.
Apart from cash flow, it is not clear what aim Bill Bailey had in mind with this book, but perhaps it was intended as both an enjoyable quirky read for knowledgeable birdwatchers and as encouragement to novices?
I would have enjoyed a further reading section but Bill Bailey has apppended some web site links: