The Common Birds of India, by Edward Hamilton Aitkin

I recently stumbled across this rather curious volume, which appears to have been assembled into its 3rd edition in 1915, with antecedents in a series of articles published approximately 40 years earlier in “The Times of India”.  This volume includes a wonderful but brief editors’ preface by Salim Ali, in which he states

“Editor I hardly like to call myself. Any attempt to ‘edit’ a masterpiece like The Common Birds Of Bombay (now republished as The Common Birds of India) would be tantamount to vandalism.”

Serious praise there.

The book is really is a study in Indian ornithology, centered primarily around Bombay.  But the scholarly writing of the time is captivating, as seen in this selection from the chapter “The Snipes and Snippets”:

“The monsoon has scarcely ended when the saltpans and still flooded rice fields on the other side of the harbor are alive with long-legged waders and web-footed swimmers of many sizes shapes. Snipe and Curlew, Stint and Sand Piper, Heron and Cormorant, Duck and Teal, seem to have arrived by one train, and having no home to go to, are wandering about in search of refreshments. Strange birds are in that crowd sometimes. Not far from Hog Island I have seen a Flamingo in the same field, I think in which I shot a Merganser another year. Are all these to be reckoned as birds of Bombay? Five or ten miles are nothing to them, and there is not one of which it can safely be said that it will not be found on our island. But to describe half of them would defeat the very purpose of these papers, which is not to perplex, but to help the sedentary Bombayite, who is not a naturalist nor a sportsman, nor a murderer under any name, so that he may recognize the birds that he sees as he takes his morning walk, drives to office, sits in his garden, or enjoys a sail in the harbor.”


Picture inset “Painted Snipe, Game Birds Of India, Burma & Ceylon, Pl.v”

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