on December 15, 2003
"A Brand-new Bird" is the entertaining story of how two German bird lovers spent most of their spare and life time experimenting to create a red canary. Hans Duncker (1881-1961) and Karl Reich (1885-1970) had in common a keen interest in bird breeding. Duncker, however, had been the more academic of both and is considered as one of the first avian geneticists. Reich on the other hand had highly praised skills in rearing and cross-breeding captive birds. He had been one of the very few breeders holding a strain of canaries singing Nightingale songs. Both conducted many experiments to hybridize Red Siskins and canaries for getting the formers "red-plumage-genes" into a canary brood. In the end they actually never succeeded beyond an orange plumage of their canaries, and it was later up to the Englishman Jack Swift to breed a truly crimson red canary. Nevertheless, Duncker and Reich did some amazing pioneer work towards the understanding of inheritance in birds.
Besides the main story Tim Birkhead skilfully draws a historical overview on bird catching and bird song contests, explains the etymology of bird trappers' jargon, gives many details on the early domestication of canaries, illustrates pre-war Germany, but also analyses well Duncker's involvement in Nazi thoughts and Eugenics. The book is well and thrillingly written. One actually wonders how so many facts and different aspects were possible to be included without loosing the red line towards the climax at the end of the book. This is a truly entertaining and informative book not only for bird breeders, ornithologists, geneticists and academics, but also for anybody with an interest in human culture and time history. It also remains the only modern book so far to stress bird keeping and its major influence on the understanding of ornithology and general biology, respectively.
Frank Steinheimer, Ornithology - Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.
on September 27, 2004
This book is fantastic!! I couldn't put it down. It's not just about developing the red factor canary as one might think from the title. It is a history from the beginnings of canary keeping, Victorian times, and before, and up to the present in Germany, England, France, all over the world. You can read a thousand books on canaries and not have a fraction of the information here with truth and clarity. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in bird history, cage bird breeding and keeping of canaries and finches. Tim Birkhead does an excellent job of telling the story and did a tremendous amount of research to present this fascinating true history.
on December 29, 2009
An excellent book that I had trouble putting down. When I was finished, I wanted a canary. I loaned the book to a student, and when she gave it back I asked her what she thought of it. Her first response? "Now I really want a canary!" It's a fascinating book on the history of songbirds, their influence on culture, canary breeding and genetics. I highly recommend this book. When you're done, you'll want a canary, too.
on October 24, 2005
Sometimes more is less. That is how I felt about this book. Mr. Birkhead's entertaining story on how two German bird lovers attempt to create a red Canary would have made a perfect long (maybe two part) magazine article. But instead he chose to write this book.
Birkhead tells the story of how, back in the 1920's, Hans Duncker and Karl Reich conducted experiments with Red Siskin and Canary hybrids with the goal of transferring the Siskins red plumage genes into the Canary.
In addition to telling the details of the creation of today's Red-factor Canary, Birkhead gives the reader much insight into the history of bird keeping and breeding in general. For example, the reader learns the importance of German aviculture in creating different cage bird varieties; The history and evolution of other Canary breeds; Insight into how mutations occur and are perpetuated by animal breeders.
I am recommending this book to all bird breeders of different mutations. The book would be an appropriate addition to a Red-factor Canary breeder's library. The book should be interesting to anybody interested in how different breeds occur and are perpetuated by animal breeders.