Book: Living on the Wind

Cover image

Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds

Author: Scott Weidensaul
Publisher: North Point Press

The magnificent story of the natural world’s most epic journeys.

At whatever moment you read these words, there are birds aloft in the skies of the Western Hemisphere, migrating. If it is spring or fall, the great pivot points of the year, then the continents are swarming with hundreds of millions of traveling birds-a flood so great that even the most ignorant or unobservant notice the skeins of geese and the flocks of robins.

Bird migration is the one truly unifying natural phenomenon in the world, stitching the continents together in a way that even the great weather systems, which roar out from the poles but fizzle at the equator, fail to do. Scott Weidensaul follows the awesome kettles of hawks over the Mexican coastal plains, the bar-tailed godwits that hitchhike on gale winds 6,000 miles nonstop across the Pacific from Alaska to New Zealand, and the myriad songbirds whose numbers have dwindled so dramatically in recent decades. Migration paths form an elaborate global web that shows serious signs of fraying, and Weidensaul delves into the tragedies of habitat degradation and deforestation with an urgency that brings to life the vast problems these miraculous migrants now face.

A magisterial book, Living on the Wind vivifies what may be the most compelling drama of the natural world.


Did you know that neither temperature nor hunger sparks bird migration? That many species migrate at night? That some birds migrate more than 5,000 miles in a single, uninterrupted flight? “We are such stodgy, rooted creatures,” observes the author of this fascinating book. “To think of crossing thousands of miles under our own power is as incomprehensible as jumping the moon. Yet even the tiniest of birds perform such miracles.”

For anyone curious about the lives of migratory birds (and, incidentally, those of bird-obsessed humans), this book is a great nest of information. The author has traveled all over the world banding and observing birds and talking to the experts—amateur birders and ornithologists who have made many of the important discoveries about bird biology. From Alaska to Lake Erie to the limestone forests of Jamaica, Weidensaul reaches not only for the scientific particulars but for the universal stories and humanizing, descriptive turns of phrase that keep this book from bogging down in statistics and jargon. By book’s end the reader is unable to resist the heart of this compelling story, a plea for the conservation of habitat to keep these miraculous creatures on—or at least circling—the earth. —Maria Dolan

Views: 490 • Modified: • Elapsed: 0.024 sec