Tian Tian and Yang Guang have boosted visitors, but I'm not convinced by the conservation rationale for keeping zoos open
It seems that Edinburgh zoo is marking its centenary with something of an annus mirabilis. Ever since the arrival of "our" pandas, a stampede of visitors has seen the once somnambulant finances of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland firmly perk up.
Little wonder then that in a lecture given to the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week, the zoo's Chris West should pay tribute to Scotland's forbearing celebrities Tian Tian and Yang Guang.
Using the customary idiom of a chief executive officer, West explained to his audience that the pandas "wrote a cheque that allowed us to mend the penguin pool". "And in future," he added, "we'll be asking them for more cheques."
Thomas Haining Gillespie, the Edinburgh solicitor who founded the zoo in 1913, would probably have been impressed with West's obvious business acumen. After all, Gillespie's vision of keeping tropical animals on a post-glacial Scottish hillside was never going to come cheap.
But he probably wouldn't have anticipated that the institution he founded would one day bring about the forcible insemination of a giant panda with the defrosted sperm of two males – one of which, a cold war diplomatic gift, was already dead. (Nothing signalled east-west "peaceful coexistence" as well as a languid bamboo-muncher.)
Such are the paradoxes of the modern zoo. West is no doubt sincere when he says that zoos offer a solution to the current "nature deficit" – the idea that urban dwellers, particularly children, have lost any environmental experience.
And we know that kids love the zoo. Don't they?
Recently, my mother gave me an old cine reel she had filmed when I visited Edinburgh zoo as a three-year-old. It's not a feelgood movie.
There I am watching a grubby polar bear. And here's me staring at an elephant that is swinging back and forth, back and forth. Again and again. The undoubted melancholy of the scenes cannot be blamed on the bleached colours of 1970s Super 8 film.
Even today, our experience of the zoo is so often interrupted by disappointment and confusion. The zoo is a kind of fantasy world: a miniature Earth that we haven't already wrecked, in which we attempt to relate to animals on terms that aren't evidently compromised by fear, loss and displacement.
For West the zoo can provide "genuine nature-based experiences". But it's a coy version of nature where the animals are in lockdown and the technical means of their captivity must also be veiled. Bars and cages are out; moats and discreet electric fences are in.
Yes, zoos have changed but part of their evolution has been aimed at our own discomfort at the spectacle of incarceration. In the bad old days, the cage was as much part of the picture as the lion: together they symbolised our power over other species, and, for the wild beasts of India and Africa, over other territories.
Now, in the new "immersive" zoo, we human visitors apparently enter the animals' world – a wafer-thin contrivance that never fully masks the anxiety of the encounter.
The questions for me are not just about the welfare of individual animals but what our experience tells us about our relationship with the non-human world. What are zoos for? What do they mean?
West points to the importance of biological conservation and captive breeding. There are, for instance, Polynesian tree snails in Edinburgh that are now extinct in the wild.
That's also the purported logic of having pandas in Scotland (beyond being a comparative index for the number of Scottish Tory MPs). Tian Tian and Yang Guang are here to reproduce, hence the unrelenting circus of breeding windows and panda porn.
But of the 300 or so pandas in China's worldwide programme of bio-diplomacy, only two have ever been released into the wild, the first being quickly dispatched by a rival aggressor.
I can't help thinking that the much lauded conservation rationale is actually back to front: in Edinburgh's case, it is the pandas that have saved the zoo from extinction, with its visitor numbers now up 51%.
And I'm not convinced that the zoo is a species worth saving. When West referred to it as "a sort of refugee camp", I fear that kinship between these spaces of confinement is altogether too real.
From showcasing the spoils of empire to smoothing our current trade relations, zoos have continued the age-old human trick of resolving the social order through the abjection of an animal.
Pandas should be left to conduct their own relations, diplomatic or otherwise.Fraser MacDonald
Political motive revealed after Cambridge University first claimed scientist's non-attendance was on medical grounds
The celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking became embroiled in a deepening furore today over his decision to boycott a prestigious conference in Israel in protest over the state's occupation of Palestine.
Hawking, a world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who has had motor neurone disease for 50 years, cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel's president, Shimon Peres, after a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics.
The move, denounced by prominent Israelis and welcomed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, entangled Cambridge University – Hawking's academic base since 1975 – which initially claimed the scientist's withdrawal was on medical grounds, before conceding a political motivation.
The university's volte-face came after the Guardian presented it with the text of a letter sent from Hawking to the organisers of the high-profile conference in Jerusalem, clearly stating that he was withdrawing from the conference in order to respect the call for a boycott by Palestinian academics.
The full text of the letter, dated 3 May, said: "I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster."
Hawking's decision to throw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel met with an angry response from the organisers of the Presidential Conference, an annual event hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres.
"The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission," said conference chairman Israel Maimon. "Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue."
Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to London, said: "It is a great shame that Professor Hawking has withdrawn from the president's conference … Rather than caving into pressure from political extremists, active participation in such events is a far more constructive way to promote progress and peace."
The Wolf Foundation, which awarded Hawking the Wolf prize in physics in 1988, said it was "sad to learn that someone of Professor Hawking's standing chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures and will refrain from visiting Israel".
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking's decision. "Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking's support for an academic boycott of Israel," said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. "We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa."
Palestinian academics sent a barrage of letters to Hawking in recent weeks in an attempt to persuade him to join the boycott movement.
Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University in the West Bank, said: "We tried to communicate two points to him. First, that Israel is a colonial entity that involves violations of the rights of the Palestinians, including academic freedom, and then asking him to stand in solidarity with Palestinian academic colleagues who have called for solidarity from international academics in the form of boycotting Israeli academia and academic institutions."
Hawking's decision to withdraw from the conference was "fantastic", said Botmeh. "I think it's wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That's very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people."
Comments on social media in Israel were overwhelmingly opposed to Hawking's move, with a small number engaging in personal abuse over his physical condition. A minority of commentators supported his stance on Israel's 46-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In addition to the letter sent by Hawking to the conference organisers, a statement in his name was sent to the British Committee for the Universities in Palestine, confirming his withdrawal from the conference for political reasons. The wording was approved by Hawking's personal assistant after consultation with Tim Holt, the acting director of communications at Cambridge University.
On Wednesday morning, following the Guardian's revelation that Hawking was boycotting the Presidential Conference, Holt issued a statement saying: "Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying."
However, a later statement said: "We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking's office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli president's office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott."
In a telephone conversation with the Guardian, Holt offered "my apologies for the confusion".
This year's conference is expected to be attended by 5,000 people from around the world, including business leaders, academics, artists and former heads of state. Former US president Bill Clinton, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, Prince Albert of Monaco and Barbra Streisand have accepted invitations, according to organisers.Shimon PeresHarriet SherwoodSam Jones
Prince uses speech at St James's Palace to single out 'confirmed sceptics' and environmentally unfriendly businesses
The Prince of Wales has criticised "corporate lobbyists" and climate change sceptics for turning the earth into a "dying patient", in his most outspoken attack yet on the world's failure to tackle global warming, made shortly before he is to take over from the Queen at the forthcoming meeting of the Commonwealth.
His intervention was reinforced by Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the 2006 report on the economics of climate change, who called sceptics and lobbyists "forces of darkness" who would be "driven back".
Prince Charles attacked businesses who failed to care for the environment, and compared the current generation to a doctor taking care of a critically ill patient.
"If you think about the impact of climate change, [it should be how] a doctor would deal with the problem," he told an audience of government ministers, from the UK and abroad, as well as businesspeople and scientists. "A scientific hypothesis is tested to absolute destruction, but medicine can't wait. If a doctor sees a child with a fever, he can't wait for [endless] tests. He has to act on what is there."
He added: "The risk of delay is so enormous that we can't wait until we are absolutely sure the patient is dying."
His words were swiftly leapt on by climate sceptics. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, led by Lord Lawson, which opposes what it terms costly policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said the heir to the throne was "out of touch with half the UK population".
Hosting a two-day conference for forest scientists at St James's Palace in London, Prince Charles – who is taking over from the Queen at this year's meeting of the Commonwealth in Sri Lanka – savagely satirised those who stand in the way of swift action on the climate.
He characterised them as "the confirmed sceptics" and "the international association of corporate lobbyists". Faced with these forces of opposition, "science finds itself up the proverbial double blind gum tree", he said.
Stern picked up on his comments, saying: "I think the forces of darkness can be driven back – the sceptics and corporate lobbyists can be driven back."
Others were supportive of the Prince's views. Mark Barry, head of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, tweeted: "Prince Charles' attack on climate sceptics is significant. As he nears throne many expect him to back off – he isn't."
Ian Cheshire, the chief executive of the retail group Kingfisher, said some businesses were committed to strong action on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and could see the benefits of dealing with the issues.
Supporters of the Prince also said privately that he should be praised for taking a strong stance on such a key issue, and was using his "convening power" to draw attention to a crisis that is engulfing the planet and is not receiving sufficient attention from politicians.
But Benny Peiser, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the Prince was "happy" for consumers to pay more in their energy bills for green policies, and accused him of using "apocalyptic language that a government minister would not use".
He said: "The US energy price is one third that of Europe, and European businesses are panicking [over measures intended to cut carbon] – Europe is becoming less and less competitive. Prince Charles has to address these concerns – there are real costs to be paid [for cutting emissions]."
The St James's Palace audience included Owen Paterson, the Tory secretary of state for the environment, said by some who know him to be sceptical of the scientific consensus on climate change, and who left climate change out of his speech and focused on other environmental issues such as biodiversity.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem secretary of state for energy and climate, used his speech to the conference to draw a deep dividing line between his own party and the increasingly vocal section of the Tory right wing that is attacking policies that require tougher emissions targets and more money for the low-carbon economy. He said: "As a politician – particularly as a politician in a coalition – you quickly realise that compromise is a part of the game. But there are some issues where you have to draw the line – where you have to stand up and be counted, and you have to do the right thing. I think climate change is firmly in that category."
Prince Charles is no stranger to controversy, having spoken out on issues from organic farming and alternative medicine to architecture. But his words – warmly welcomed by the conference – were his strongest yet on climate change, an issue he has taken a deep interest in. He founded his working group on forests, whose conference he was addressing on Wednesday, in 2007, and also lends his name to a group of businesses, the Corporate Leaders' Group, which supports corporate action on cutting greenhouse emissions. He has also written to government ministers on the subject of climate change.
In his speech, Prince Charles praised countries such as Brazil, which has taken a lead on reducing deforestation, and Norway, which is offering billions of dollars to developing nations to protect their forests.
The scientists at the Prince's forum endorsed a call for much greater investment on "big science, which supports the integration and expansion of global tropical forest monitoring networks" and "enhanced research" into the resilience of forests. About a billion people all over the world depend on forests for their livelihoods, and although the rate of deforestation has slowed in countries such as Brazil, it is accelerating over swathes of south-east Asia and Africa.
Products that are marketed as being free from GM, aspartame, MSG and parabens perpetuate myths and ignore evidence
We have all found ourselves standing in a supermarket aisle, staring at packets and cans, struggling to choose between different versions of the same thing: Do I choose the product that is "free from artificial sweetener" or has "no MSG"? What about the one that "contains no GM" or is "paraben-free"?
But these are false choices: supermarkets are misinforming their customers about health risks. There is no scientific evidence to support rumours about adverse health effects from the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), or from foods containing material from plants that were genetically modified, or from the sweetener aspartame, or from parabens, which are used to preserve toiletries.
By marketing products as "free from" supermarkets are playing on people's fears, which are based on the rumours that have circulated about these substances.
Frustrated by this cynical marketing, a group of junior researchers that I coordinate (the Voice of Young Science network) wrote an open letter calling on supermarkets to stop misleading customers and review their negative claim policies.
We had asked the supermarkets to give their reasons for marketing products as "free from". Without exception, the supermarkets that responded provided no evidence for any negative health effects. Instead, they told us their policies are a response to customer concerns. For example Marks & Spencer responded: "The reason why we decided as a business to remove GM ingredients from our foods was due to our customer concerns."
This puts the blame on the customer … but how on earth are people supposed to work out which health concerns are well founded, and which are not, if supermarkets arbitrarily exploit health fears as a sales tool? Customers who would be better off reducing their salt and sugar intake to help prevent heart disease and obesity – significant public health issues – are instead wasting effort worrying about MSG and aspartame.
While scientists are working hard to get sound science and evidence into public discussion about food risks, and science journalists now stop much of the worst media reporting of unfounded scare and miracle stories, the supermarkets are busy promoting these unfounded fears to thousands of customers every day, undoing all that good work. When supermarkets promote the idea that MSG-free or paraben-free products are a good thing, they are helping to drive this misinformation.
There is no justification for consumers' worries about these substances. Take aspartame. Before any low-calorie sweetener is approved for use in food and beverages in the UK, the science supporting its safety is thoroughly reviewed. All of the low-calorie sweeteners approved for use, including aspartame, have been shown to be safe.
What about MSG? Research has shown it to be safe and that there is no need to set an upper limit on intake. Suspected adverse reactions and allergies to MSG have been investigated, including by the Scientific Committee on Food (the predecessor of European Food Standards Agency). There are people who claim to be sensitive to MSG, but in studies where these individuals are given MSG or a placebo no link between MSG and a reaction has been found.
And yet the supermarkets provide a choice between a product with, and a product without these substances. Supermarkets are effectively telling customers they would benefit in some way from choosing the "free-from" version, which reinforces any existing but unfounded concern. Supermarkets are shirking their responsibility to inform their customers and this needs to change.
Perhaps supermarkets don't realise the scale of the effect they have on customer opinion. When it comes to public misunderstanding of GM, for example, supermarkets have contributed to widespread public distrust. GM-free supermarket products imply that GM is "weird science", even though the European Commission has found no evidence of higher risk of negative health outcomes from GM food compared with conventional food in any of the research it has funded.
Negative marketing by supermarkets based on unsubstantiated concerns exploits people's attempts to choose healthy products, even pushing them towards alternatives that may not be good for them. It undermines our efforts to help people make sense of stories about food. Products and policies based on evidence are vital to give customers a real, informed choice. Supermarkets need to promote evidence not unfounded fears.Victoria Murphy
Two skydivers have made a breathtaking flight over the Nazca lines, a set of giant mystic markings stencilled into the Peruvian desert 1,500 years ago
Two scientists say they are worried about chemical in the silicone filling that could affect the development of a foetus
The PIP breast implants that were fraudulently filled with industrial-grade silicone may have caused their recipients harm, claim two environmental scientists and campaigners who dispute the findings of the independent inquiry into the scandal, which concluded there was no significant risk.
Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the pair say they are particularly concerned about a chemical in the silicone filling that has been identified as an endocrine-disruptor – a substance that could potentially have an effect on the development of a foetus in the womb.
The article, by Andre Menache, director of consumer protection organisation Antidote Europe, and Dr Victoria Martindale, an environmental campaigner, is opinion and not based on any new evidence, but the note of caution it sounds was supported by one of the main professional associations of plastic surgeons. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (baaps.org.uk) says the remains of ruptured implants removed from women should have been tested.
"Whilst the article in question is entirely an opinion piece and not presenting any new data, at the BAAPS we do agree – as we have said before – that there remain many unanswered questions regarding the possible effects of these chemical compounds," said Rajiv Grover, president of the BAAPS.
"We reiterate our call for analysis to be conducted on collected samples taken 'in vivo' rather than off-the-shelf, as it would also be advantageous to examine what impact body temperature and conditions have on them. It was only change occurring in implants inside the body which triggered a recall of soya bean (Trilucent) implants years ago."
The BAAPS says that all the PIP implants should be removed. "We have remained constant in our view – these defective devices have no place within the human body," said Grover. "The whole sector and in particular the patients affected, deserve more thorough answers."
Around 47,000 women in the UK were given PIP breast implants, manufactured by a French company whose owner is now on trial in France. After the scandal broke in March 2010, some had them removed. The NHS offered removal for free, although not replacement, when it became clear that not all of the private clinics would agree to take them out without a charge.
An inquiry, under NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, concluded that the implants did not cause actual harm. "We disagree with their conclusion," write Menache and Martindale in their article. They also have concerns, they say, about the regulatory and quality control procedures that failed to safeguard thousands of women from the health risks associated with PIP breast implants.
"Considering these known risks and the fact that most women receiving breast implants were of reproductive age, we would expect the MHRA and the Department of Health to fulfil its duty of care and thoroughly investigate these risks as well as provide full information to patients," said Menache.Sarah Boseley
Wolsingham, Weardale: Part of the flower's charm is that it has endured for four decades in such an inhospitable spot
We first encountered yellow star of Bethlehem along this riverbank on a late March morning almost 40 years ago, when we found a single flowering specimen. It was so unfamiliar then that I thought it must be a garden escape, only realising it was a scarce native after consulting wildflower guides.
Best appreciated on hands and knees, this flower is little more than a few short, thick grass-like leaves and a 10cm-tall umbel of small yellow flowers that usually open at the same time as the lesser celandines. Individual plants don't bloom every year and, when they do, each flower remains green until the petals briefly turn yellow and face the sky for a day or two before fading.
Luck plays a large part in finding it, but we've searched this same place every spring and have usually located a plant or two. Last year – an early spring – we found it on 15 April, but by then that single inflorescence had already run to seed. It is a measure of the lateness of this year's season that we finally discovered two plants struggling into flower on the penultimate day of April, so blooming must have been delayed by about a month compared with last year.
Part of the charm of these tenacious little survivors is that they have endured for four decades in such an inhospitable spot, inundated by the river Wear's floods in winter and annually buried under sandy silt. By now they will be almost impossible to find, hidden in the shade of expanding leaves of the surrounding sweet cicely, ground elder and ramsons.
In a month they will have withered back to underground bulbs for another year. But for a moment their fugitive beauty brought particular pleasure with the knowledge that, for another year at least, all was well in this particular corner of our local patch after the longest winter we can recall.Phil Gates
Dutch company plans to choose crew for private mission with reality TV show, in order to meet $6bn cost
Almost 80,000 people have applied to take part in a one-way mission to Mars, each of them completing a rigorous application that stresses the need for a "Can Do!" attitude, asks individuals about their sense of humour and requires the submission of an application fee that can be as much as $75.
Mars One, the Dutch company behind the proposed mission, says it has received applications from more than 120 countries. It also says that the role of Mars explorer/guinea pig is "the most desired job in history". More than 17,000 of the applicants are from the US – the most of any country so far.
"These numbers put us right on track for our goal of half a million applicants," said the founder of Mars One, Bas Lansdorp. "Mars One is a mission representing all humanity and its true spirit will be justified only if people from the entire world are represented. I'm proud that this is exactly what we see happening."
According to the company's chief medical officer, Norbert Kraft, Mars One is eschewing the usual astronaut candidates – scientists and pilots – in favour of YouTube fanatics and internet people, "because what we are looking for is not restricted to a particular background."
All applicants have to do is pay the application fee, which ranges from $5 to $75 – in the US, it is $38 – and then submit a video in which they answer three questions. The specific queries chosen by Mars One to select four people to represent the expansion of the human race are:
1. Why would you like to go to Mars?
2. How would you describe your sense of humor?
3. What makes you the perfect candidate for this mission to Mars?
After completing the gruelling application, Mars hopefuls will have to sit tight for a while. Mars One is hoping that 500,000 will have applied by the end of August. That number will be whittled down to 50 to 100 for each of 300 geographic regions identified by the company. By 2015, that number will be reduced to between 28 and 40 overall.
Those people will train for seven years; Mars One plans to run a reality TV show with an "audience vote" deciding who will ultimately get the nod. The $6bn cost has to come from somewhere.
Happily, Mars One is publishing people's video applications to their website, allowing peers to rank the videos on a scale of one to five. One of the best-rated applications is by Ilona, a Finnish, 23-year-old "critically discerning cosmopolitan" who says she is a "bookish diplomat by nature". At the time of writing, one of the least popular applications had been submitted by Michael, 26, from the US, who lists his interests as "Star Trek: "minus the deep [s]pace nine".Adam Gabbatt
Scientist's critics say he should stop using Israeli technology in computer equipment that allows him to communicate
Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott an Israeli conference in protest at the state's 46-year occupation of Palestine was derided as hypocritical by some, who pointed out that the celebrated scientist and author uses Israeli technology in the computer equipment that allows him to function.
Hawking, 71, has suffered from motor neurone disease for the past 50 years, and relies on a computer-based system to communicate.
According to Shurat HaDin, an Israel law centre which represents victims of terrorism, the equipment has been provided by the hi-tech firm, Intel, since 1997.
"Hawking's decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.
Intel could not be reached for comment, but their website quotes Justin Rattner, chief technology officer, as saying earlier this year: "We have a long-standing relationship with Professor Hawking." He added: "We are very pleased to continue to … work closely with Professor Hawking on improving his personal communication system."
Cambridge University declined to comment on allegations of hypocrisy regarding Hawking's communications system.
• This article was amended on 9 May 2013 to remove a reference to Intel being an Israeli firm. It is a US multinational with bases in Israel.Harriet Sherwood
A delightful book for baby and adult birders that is crammed with poetry, information and gorgeous paintings of birds! Oh yeah, it teaches the letters of the English alphabet, too
Do you wish to share your love of birds, art and books with (your) children? If so, then you will really enjoy the Alphabet Bird Collection, a lovely children's book that was written and illustrated by Shelli Ogilvy [Sasquatch Books, 2009; Amazon UK; Amazon US]. This beautiful book is designed to teach children the alphabet whilst also teaching them a few things about birds.
Suitable for adults to read aloud to young children (ages 3+) or for older children to read themselves (if they haven't already memorised the entire book from frequent re-readings!), each letter is presented on two colourful facing pages in this hardcover book. One page features a painting of a bird whose name begins with the featured letter of the alphabet (see top) and the facing page includes a rhyming couplet about the bird along with a few interesting life history details. For example:
At dusk you might see from under the eve,
Nighthawks hunting, as they bob and weave.
In the evening Common Nighthawks come out to feed. Their large mouths and flying acrobatics can be confused with those of bats. However, their soft call identifies this bird rather than other insect hunters.
Well actually, not to be nit-picky or anything, but I think common nighthawks sound rather like semi-trailer trucks (articulated lorries) that have downshifted when they roar down a steep hill.
My only complaint is the book claims to include a "song" for each bird, written out on a musical scale and presumably representing what that bird's actual song sounds like. Well, the words may represent the bird's song (kinda-sorta), but writing the words on a musical scale is just wrong since different bird species sing different notes -- and this difference is not represented at all accurately even though the musical scale implies that it is accurate-as-written. Another (minor) issue is these birds are all New World species, which means that at least some of them or their relatives cannot be seen in the Old World -- unless, of course, they become desperately lost during migration, which does happen on occasion!
However, that said, I do love this book for its adorable poems and interesting life history information. For example, I was pleased that the author does not refer to gulls as "seagulls" -- a common mistake that many people make. But this book's primary appeal to kids of all ages are its many beautiful and accurate bird paintings. My personal favourites are "L for Loon" (common loon/great northern diver) and "P for Puffin" (horned puffin).
You may be curious which birds the author used to represent those challenging letters Q, X, V and Z? Well, Ms Ogilvy does have birds representing each of those letters, but their identities are something I'll leave for you to investigate. If you (and your relatives) don't have any kids of your own, you might enjoy purchasing this book for your local school library, just so you can enjoy it first!
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Shelli Ogilvy is an artist and outdoor adventurer who was born and raised in rural Alaska. She has a bachelor's degree in marine biology and has contributed to published scientific research on humpback whales and gray wolves. When not working as a sea kayak guide in Antarctica or as a camping guide in Alaska's Glacier Bay, she paints and pursues other creative activities. Ms Ogilvy primarily works with acrylic paint on either canvas or paper and sometimes combines mediums such as chalk, ink or spray paint. She divides her time between Gustavus, Alaska and Taos, New Mexico. This is her first book.
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GrrlScientist is an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and freelance science writer who writes about the interface between evolution, ethology and ecology, especially in birds. She also has a deep passion for good books, especially good science books, which she reviews with some regularity. You can follow Grrlscientist's work on facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, Pinterest and of course, on twitter: @GrrlScientistGrrlScientist