Pick of the picture books: Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds, By John Long

They look as if some ageing-hippie illustrator of post-Tolkien fantasy novels had suffered an LSD flashback after watching Hitchcock's The Birds and run utterly amok. Feathered raptors, grotesque predatory relations of the nice little birdies that warble in gardens, swoop and snarl and tear each to bits.

Among these aerial nightmares of teeth, talon and tail, the "little smart ones" sound cute only in comparison with the "monster claws". RSPB members: meet the ancestors. Nearly 150 years ago, Darwin's "bulldog", T H Huxley, speculated that today's birds descended from winged dinosaurs.

The modern fossil record, much enhanced by recent discoveries in that homeland of dragons, China, has filled in the evolutionary gaps. Now we can envisage the frankly terrifying carnivores – the "Theropods" – that nest deep in the avian family tree.

In Feathered Dinosaurs: the origin of birds (Oxford, £20), John Long provides the illuminating words and, in 80 spectacular paintings, artist Peter Schouten depicts the beasts in flight and at rest.

Comments