Book Club: ‘The Seabird’s Cry’ by Adam Nicolson

‘No one has previously captured the essence of seabirds with such poignancy or perception’ – BBC Wildlife Magazine

A display for the release of ‘The Seabird’s Cry’ made by a Waterstones in Edinburgh

Seabirds are often discounted or forgotten when compiling lists of the most charismatic and intriguing animals living in the marine world. Even on this site I must confess they are rarely talked about as much as other mainstream groups such as sharks, cetaceans, turtles or cephalopods. However they are indeed a major group both in and above the oceans and when you take the time to learn about them, there is little doubt they are one of the most interesting and important. Nowhere is this more evident than among the pages of ‘The Seabird’s Cry’ by Adam Nicolson. This fantastic award-winning book explores the lives and loves of the great oceanic voyagers like never before. Taking the reader on a whistle-stop tour around the major breeding colonies of the Atlantic and Southern Ocean, as well as back in time through the eyes of famous poets and ground-breaking seabird scientists.

Puffin on Shiants
A puffin overlooks the Shiants, a group of islands in Scotland that feature heavily in the book

Each chapter explores the story of a different seabird group, looking closely at its physiology, behaviours, history and impact on human society. The ten groups featured include fulmars, puffins, kittiwakes, gulls, guillemots, cormorants, shearwaters, gannets, razorbills, albatrosses and even the now extinct great auk. For each new group we are introduced to on our seabird journey, Nicolson manages to encapsulate the unique characteristics and abilities that set each bird apart from its relatives. Expertly blending facts and figures collected from the keystone seabird studies across the globe, with exerts from poems and novels spanning hundreds of years.

Wandering albatross
The wandering albatross is arguably the true ocean wandering travelling millions of miles in a lifetime

Ultimately what Nicolson is trying to do is capture each group’s Umwelt, a German word used by a Russian scientist to coin the concept of an animal’s unique personality and experience of the world around them. This is a theme that he constantly returns to, asking questions about how differing levels of intelligence and life history traits must shape how each group experiences life relative to our own. By doing this each seabird is brought to life as the reader imagines what it must be like for each group. The biggest compliment I can give this book is that each new species you read about becomes your new favourite seabird, before quickly being replaced by the next.

Cormorant mates
Cormorant mates undergoing pair binding behaviours, seabird ‘mariages’ and reproduction is a big part of the seabird story

The story is brought to an end as Nicolson discusses the fate of seabirds as a collective and what life may look like for them in the future as their world is continually impacted on by humanity. It is a hard hitting finish which questions how each of these unique groups you have been introduced to are being effected, whilst also explaining what can be done to help save them. Overall ‘The Seabird’s Cry’ gives a voice to this group of remarkable yet misunderstood group of animals and changes the way you will think about them forever.

This review is the third in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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