Tales from Concrete Jungles: Urban Birding around the World By David Lindo, book review

Unless you're already an experienced birder you may find yourself little the wiser about what prompts people to take up field-glasses and rise at dawn

If the non-fiction bestseller lists are anything to go by, our hunger as readers to hear about the natural world seems to increase in direct relation to our withdrawal from it into built and digital landscapes of our own. The perfect moment, you would think, for a guide to the birds we can encounter without leaving the city.

Enter David Lindo, better known as the Urban Birder, a brand built through a column in the RSPB Bird Watching magazine, regular TV appearances, tour guiding and a Twitter account with more than 10,000 followers. Lindo is not a typical birder, he will have you know: he also likes to DJ in clubs and play football on a Saturday. Those coming to his talks earlier in his career were sometimes surprised to meet a ''funky black dude wearing a pinstripe suit with short, dyed blond hair'': (hair and dye have since migrated).

Lindo grew up in west London and his favourite birding patch remains the scrappy piece of open parkland alongside Wormwood Scrubs. Herein lies his core message: cities are ideal bird habitat. Become familiar with your local area and there's no knowing what you might see, as long as you remember to look up.

Lindo's first book traced his passage from keen childhood amateur twitcher to the media presence he is today. That story told, this book is mainly a collection of accounts of brief visits to locations in the UK and around the world to experience the local bird-life. Several of the chapters are partial re-workings of columns that have appeared in Bird Watching and were therefore crafted for a particular audience; herein lies a problem for this reader.

Lindo may not be a typical twitcher in appearance or even in his chatty, enthusiastic style, but unless you are already an experienced birder you may find yourself little the wiser about what prompts people to take up field-glasses and rise at dawn. Despite the vast variety of places he visits (he seems to spend almost as much time aloft, thanks to the budget airlines he praises, as the birds he is in pursuit of), Lindo is not one for describing his surroundings in detail or giving a sense of the landscape or local colour of the place he finds himself in.

What motivates him instead is the search for a ''tick'' to add to his list of observed birds – the characteristic that most clearly divides hard-core birdwatchers from the rest of us. This means that whether he is in Addis Ababa, exploring the park that doubles as an alfresco latrine behind his hotel, or in Croydon, pretty soon he will be running through a list of bird names spotted with little reference to what might make them of interest in terms of their appearance, behaviour or habitat. If a bird's name is not enough to summon a picture in your head, thus triggering an envious thrill, too bad.

There is no doubting Lindo's skills as a communicator in person and on screen, or the value of his role in bringing an awareness of nature to a wider audience. However, as someone who is fascinated by birds but has never felt compelled to tick their names off a list, this book wasn't a route to a deeper understanding of their world. It tells us birds are there, certainly: but not why, or for how long.

Comments