Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To British Birds | Book review by Steve Bennett

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To British Birds

Book review by Steve Bennett

Bill Bailey isn’t, as it happens, the first bearded comedian to have written a bird book. Seven years ago, Rory McGrath penned a memoir about his birding adventures.

However Bailey’s newly published Remarkable Guide To British Birds is more a field guide.  In fact, with his detailed drawings, silly cartoons, spotting notes and personal reflections it more closely resembles the scrapbook of some Victorian gentleman naturalist chronicling his findings.

Indeed, the hardback has been produced to emphasise that feel, with yellowed, lined or even tea-stained looking pages, the font of a battered typewriter, and images displayed as if they had been held in place with ageing sticky-tape.

It suits Bailey’s unpretentiously quirky image, too. As with almost everything he does, his sense of passion and wonder comes through strong, too. The prose is as charming as it is informative, with the sort of conversational flourishes you might hope for from a comedian.

Yet the book is sincere in its attempts to offer a guide to Britain’s bird life, although it’s not comprehensive enough to be more than an entertainment for the more serious birder. Yet for those who  occasionally ponder their back-garden visitors, this guide might just inspire a bit more curiosity. If you’ve zero interest in out feathered friends, though, the comic elements probably won’t be enough to warrant a purchase.

Bailey is careful to ensure that in the 51 species he covers, he includes everyday birds such as blackbirds, herring gulls and feral pigeons, something anyone can spot. And he makes some argument that they shouldn’t just be considered nuisances, and deserve to be appreciated as much as any other natural creature. Incidentally, there’s one recurring story here, it’s of species being culled to the verge of extinction because farmers accused them of stealing crops or attacking livestock.

Bailey birdsBut there are more obscure species, too, such as the red-throated diver, a seasonal visitor to the very north of Scotland, the rare osprey (‘The black stripe over its eye lends it a rakish, villainous demeanour, like some sort of international bird of mystery, which, in a way, it is.’), or the kingfisher. Normally so he can share an anecdote about the time he spotted one, stories which clearly bring him great glee.

That sort of enthusiasm is infectious, and a mainstay of this idiosyncratic compendium.

• Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To British Birds has been published by Quercus Books, priced £20. Click here to order from Amazon for £9.99.

That’s so raven… 10 things we learned from Bill Bailey’s bird book.

Published: 8 Nov 2016

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