100 Birds and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells...

Editor's Choice

January 27, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

100 Birds and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells, illustrated by Lauren Jarrett (Algonquin Books, 297 pages, $18.95).

The English word raven is derived from the Old Norse hrafn, which meant "to clear one's throat" -- an apparent reference to the bird's capacity to mimic human speech. There's more, of course: The raven is associated with deathwatches, mystic insights and other, mostly dark, things. Edgar Allan Poe, Diana Wells speculates in this book of captivating bird lore, gave his raven its spare vocabulary -- "nevermore" -- because it rhymes with the beloved Lenore, with shore and implore. Among other birds covered are herons, some of which are fly-fishermen, dropping a feather on the water to attract fish, which they then gulp down. The ubiquitous shore stalker, the sandpiper, comes in sizes ranging from five inches to two feet. Flamingos (from Latin flamma, meaning flame) were first imported to Florida, from Cuba, as a publicity touch for Hialeah Race Track. There are 96 other birds here, all delightful.

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