A World on the Wing : The Golden Odyssey of Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul.

Coming near the end of ''A World on the Wing : The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds'' Scott Weidensaul's gripping journey alongside the world's feathered wanderers and the people who study them - these words are necessarily grim.

Any long timer birder offers the same lament : Migration just isn't what it used to be.

The plummeting numbers of songbirds and shorebirds, raptors and waterfowl, have become painfully apparent; a recent study collating decades of data revealed that nearly a third of all birds - three billion creatures - have vanished from North America in just just the last 30 years.

Weidensaul tasks himself with communicating to both the knowing birder and the laymen the epic scale of what's happening in our skies every year, the whys and hows, while-offering rays of hope through the gloomy storm clouds.

The success of ''A World on The Wing'' in navigating that challenge rivals the astonishing feats of the birds he chronicles.

At its best, ''A World on the Wing'' brims with spectacle : the silhouettes of a hundreds thousand Amur Falcons flying past the moon, ten thousand Swainson hawks soaring against the setting sun before roosting together in eucalyptus trees -

Waves of colourful warblers moving along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec in one of the Greatest Shows on Earth - shows that were once the norm, and now are increasingly rare.

The passion Weidensaul brings to these scenes is personal. ''A World on the Wing'' finds some of its most moving moments early on, when he charts the development of his own interest in birds. As he describes watching the great movements of raptors over Hawk mountains in Pennsylvania-

''Fly fishing in the air'' to lure a golden eagle into his hander's mist net, or the simple pleasure of celebrating the raucous arrival of Canada geese every spring over his childhood home -

[ ''Big Goose Day'' his family called it; ''but it's not like we baked a cake or anything else,'' his sister adds], a birder can be forgiven for nodding in recognition. And non-birders can feel enough of the joy that they, too, might be inspired to partake of the wild.

Spring rushes up the shoots of growing things, and from the towers of New York to the farms of Alabama, from the plains of Manitoba to the west woods of Cascadia, we know that wings rushing up from the south are not far behind.

''As the light grew around me, the woods, I realized, were seething with birds,'' Weidensaul writes.

''They darted across the narrow trails I followed beneath the oaks, flickers and slashes of motion in my peripheral vision, and flushed before me like a bow wave as I walked - warblers and sparrows, buntings and orioles, catbirds and thrushes, flycatchers and grosbeaks. This was the kind of day for which my colleagues and I came here.''

As the birds flit through these pages, but with ever less frequency through our lives, we can only hope that birders and non-birders alike take inspiration and call to action from ''A World on the Wing.'' This is the kind of a book we've been waiting for.

The World Students Society thanks review author Christian Cooper.


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