Flight Paths

Rebecca Heisman / HarperCollins / 267 pages 

When Rebecca Heisman worked for the American Ornithological Society, her job involved reading “cutting-edge migration research” and publicizing it in a digestible way for the public. She sought to provide readers with the answer to a seemingly simple question: Where do the birds go? That work formed the beginnings of Flight Paths: How a Passionate and Quirky Group of Pioneering Scientists Solved the Mystery of Bird Migration—an educational, enlightening, and whimsical story of avian migration discovery.

Theories about bird migration have been advanced for centuries. Stories by early naturalists told of swallows hibernating in the crevices of trees or deep in the mud at the bottom of lakes and rivers, birds transmogrifying throughout the seasons, or even birds mystically flying to the moon. Flight Paths moves beyond these antiquated and sometimes outlandish theories to call attention to the scientists, researchers, scholars, bird enthusiasts, and hobbyists who pioneered the modern study of bird migration. 

Heisman’s writing style makes it easy to follow along as she explains complex science and walks readers through discoveries chronologically—from the early stages of banding and tagging to the modern GPS and biological testing done today. Unlikely folks are featured—contributors large and small, from various backgrounds, who added to the advancements. Heisman is a captivating storyteller, bringing joy and excitement to all stages of her interviews and investigations, encouraging readers to feel the excitement, too. 

While describing the advancements made over the years, Heisman also emphasizes the importance of it. Tracking the movement of birds contributes to the conservation of species and ecosystems, deepens our understanding of the arduous and extraordinary journeys birds make, and encourages people around the globe to take up birdwatching. 

Tailored to anyone from the casual birdwatcher to dedicated ornithologist, Flight Paths provides insight into the people who laid the groundwork for bird migration discovery and modern understanding. Who knows? After reading this book, maybe you too will begin listening for the night calls of migratory birds during the changing seasons.

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