Dreambirds: The Strange History of the Ostrich in Fashion, Food and Fortune Paperback – March 1, 2001
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This is all rather unkind, and in fact, unfair to the ostrich. A bird rumored to be so dumb that it supposedly sticks it's head into the sand when threatened; actually we are the dummies if we believe this bit of folklore - it's a myth. The ostrich is in fact remarkably well adapted to it's environment - the savannas of Eastern and Southern Africa, and has had a close association with man for the better part of a century, providing us with food and making fortunes for us.
It is this relationship between man and ostrich that Mr Nixon explores in DREAMBIRDS, specifically his remembrances of the bird from his childhood in South Africa. A town called Oudtshoorn, near where he grew up, was, before WWI, the capital of the worldwide ostrich feather industry. In its heyday it supplied 100,000 tons of plumes to the fashion centers of Europe. The town was then known as the Jerusalem of Africa - a consequence of the large resident community of jewish feather merchants.
That's about all the history there is though. The book is a more a biography, and the ostrich is the common theme, the link between Nixons early youth in South Africa and his adult life in his adopted home - the US. We run into the bird at the ostrich races in Chandler, Arizona and again at various ranches throughout the Southwest. It's not only places, but people that are mentioned. There are some interesting characters involved in the ostrich business. One of the central people in the book is Mr Nixons father, and we are treated to a bit of reminiscing about the relationship between father and son. DREAMBIRDS is a well written and humorous look at this "gawky, boneheaded creature"; gladly it's light on the father and son dynamic, but sadly it's also light on the development and history of the industry. For lovers of birds and biographies.