Book review – natural history

Above: The Spangled Cotinga of the Amazon Rainforest is one of the seven species known to fly-tiers as the Blue Chatterer. Left: The Resplendent Quetzal, found from Chipias, Mexico to Western Panama

The most bizarre museum heist ever

28 April 2018 9:00 am

Maggie Fergusson discovers a strange fraternity for whom exotic plumage is a criminal passion

The elusive snowy owl in flight

The healing power of owls

10 February 2018 9:00 am

Owls, frontally eyed and nose beaked, look the most human of birds. Accordingly, they have for millennia been prominent in…

‘The Kindly Robin’: a Victorian Christmas card portrays the robin as a ‘good’ bird, despite it being aggressive by nature, and quick to see off intruders

Dogs crave justice, while horses get embarrassed

28 October 2017 9:00 am

There was a time when biologists so scorned the attribution of human qualities to other animals that anthropomorphism was seen…

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) in the Faroes

Will most seabirds be extinct by the end of the century?

3 June 2017 9:00 am

Wherever seabirds are at home, so too is Adam Nicolson – and his understanding of them is almost uncanny, says Maggie Fergusson

The Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis) in song flight, Sussex, April 2012

The sad truth about why birds sing

20 May 2017 9:00 am

Whether it’s Coleridge’s nightingale or Petrarch’s, Ted Hughes’s wren or Shelley’s skylark, Helen Macdonald’s hawk or Max Porter’s crow, literature…

The cacao tree in flower and fruit. Its only pollinators are flies — so without flies there would be no chocolate

Flies, bees and chocolate trees

8 April 2017 9:00 am

It is estimated that the world’s insects perform an annual pollination service for all humankind worth $215 billion. In return,…

Frolics with otters in a Hampshire watermill

1 April 2017 9:00 am

Thanks to Henry Williamson and Gavin Maxwell I have spent hours in the company of otters, though I have only…

The magnificent Clifden Nonpareil — or Blue Underwing — faced extinction as a breeding species in Britain. There are now at least four colonies thriving in Sussex

Who — or what — is the African, the Stranger and the One-eyed Sphinx?

18 March 2017 9:00 am

Since childhood, Caroline Moore has been captivated by the fragile, silky, shimmering beauty of moths —  and by their enchanting names

Whalers defend themselves against polar bears (German school, 1870s)

Beauties and the beast: Hollywood sex goddesses and the great white bear

28 January 2017 9:00 am

According to the author of this beautifully illustrated, hugely engaging book, if we were ever to choose a fellow mammal…

Massacre of the tuna. ‘To eat a tuna is equivalent to eating a tiger’ says Jonathan Balcombe

Fish are not so cold-blooded after all

7 January 2017 9:00 am

The recent furore over a freakshow ice rink in Japan, with hapless fishes embedded beneath the skaters’ feet, was inexplicable…

Frank Buckland at home with his caged monkeys

Anyone for pickled horse tongue, boiled elephant’s trunk or rhinoceros pie?

10 December 2016 9:00 am

Forgotten? Though I can rarely attend their dinners (in Birmingham), I am a proud member of the Buckland Club (motto:…

Harvesting apples, illustrated in the medieval handbook Tacuinum Sanitas — which stresses the fruit’s medicinal properties

Apples of discord in today’s supermarkets

22 October 2016 9:00 am

Apple Day, on 21 October, is a newish festival, created in 1990, by the venerable organisation, Common Ground. Intended to…

Loveliest of trees: ‘Cherry blossom at Asakura’ by Ando or Utagawa Hiroshige.The flowering cherry is a national obsession in Japan — and in Korea has been eradicated

The oak doesn't belong to England

13 August 2016 9:00 am

Was it perhaps the landscape historian Oliver Rackham who gave rise to our present preoccupation with old trees through his…

The waggle-dance of the honeybees

Bees, Nazis and the Nobel prize: the amazing life of Karl von Frisch

25 June 2016 8:00 am

The Dancing Bees is a romantic title, evoking fantasy and fairy tale rather than scientific rigour, but actually this book…

Ruthless Reynard or Fantastic Mr Fox?

11 June 2016 9:00 am

Have you ever considered tying a fox’s penis to your head? Well no, nor have I, but if you suffer…

The famous rip tide in French Pass, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Across the river... and into the trees

30 April 2016 9:00 am

Water accounts for 70 per cent of your planet, and 60 per cent of your body. Yet when do you…

Without mankind, dogs wouldn’t stand a chance

What dogs are really up to

30 April 2016 9:00 am

Before I read this book, I thought I knew what a dog was. It barks, it wags its tail, it…

Male bowerbirds’ creations look like little art galleries — built to impress the females

Which came first — the bowerbird or the egg?

23 April 2016 9:00 am

What is it about birds? They are the wild creatures we see most often, their doings and calls a daily…

Tracking the great Siberian tiger

23 January 2016 9:00 am

Of all charismatic animals, tigers are surely the most filmed, televised, documented, noisily cherished and, paradoxically, the most persecuted on…

Green is the colour of happiness

17 October 2015 8:00 am

According to this wonderfully thought-provoking book, human attachment to plants was much more evident in the 19th century than it…

Acer palmatum ‘Osakasuki’, the Japanese maple

There is good in every tree, says Thomas Pakenham — even the sycamore

26 September 2015 8:00 am

I have never written much about the one-acre shaw of native trees I planted in 1994, even though it is…

Herring girls had to wash their hair six times on a Saturday night to rinse out the smell

The current scarcity of herring may itself be a red herring

19 September 2015 8:00 am

Fish stories come in two varieties: the micro-version of a hundred riverside bars, blokeish boastings of rod-and-line tussles with individual…

The Clouded Yellow, especially vulnerable to cold, wet weather, is rare in Britain and usually confined to the South Downs and south coast

We all love butterflies — so why are we wiping them out?

1 August 2015 9:00 am

Last month, at Edinburgh School of Art, I was interested to come across a student who’d chosen Marlowe’s Dr Faustus…

Primula auricula

How 18th-century gardeners ordered their plants after a great storm, a terrible drought and ‘a little ice age’

23 May 2015 9:00 am

I hesitate ever to criticise an author for the inappropriateness of a book’s title, since it’s more likely the fault…

A ‘nurse log’ — a tree stump in which a seed has germinated, thereby avoiding browsing herbivores and the overshading of undergrowth. From Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler

Fizmer, feetings, flosh, blinter - enjoy these words and forget them immediately, advises Adam Nicolson

28 February 2015 9:00 am

It is not only archaic or dialect terms in natural history we’re now missing in everyday speech, says Adam Nicolson. Soon children won’t even know what a dandelion is