The captivating, little-known true story of a group of scientists and the methods and technology they developed to uncover the secrets of avian migration.
For the past century, scientists and naturalists have been steadily unravelling the secrets of bird migration. How and why birds navigate the skies, traveling from continent to continent—flying thousands of miles across the earth each fall and spring—has continually fascinated the human imagination, but only recently have we been able to fully understand these amazing journeys. Although we know much more than ever before, even the most enthusiastic birdwatcher may not know how we got here, the ways that the full breadth of scientific disciplines have come together to reveal these annual avian travels.
Flight Paths is the never-before-told story of how a group of migration-obsessed scientists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries engaged nearly every branch of science to understand bird migration—from where and when they take off to their flight paths and behaviors, their destinations and the challenges they encounter getting there. Uniting curious minds from across generations, continents, and disciplines, bird enthusiast and science writer Rebecca Heisman traces the development of each technique used for tracking migratory birds, from the first attempts to mark individual birds to the cutting-edge technology that lets ornithologists trace where a bird has been, based on unique DNA markers. Along the way, she touches on the biggest technological breakthroughs of modern science and reveals the almost-forgotten stories of the scientists who harnessed these inventions in service of furthering our understanding of nature (and their personal obsession with birds).
The compelling and fascinating story of how scientists solved the great mystery of bird migration, Flight Paths is an unprecedented look into exciting, behind-the-scenes moments of groundbreaking discovery. Heisman demonstrates that the real power of science happens when people work together, focusing their minds and knowledge on a common goal. While the world looks to tackle massive challenges involving conservation and climate, the story of migration research offers a beacon of hope that we can find solutions to difficult and complex problems.
Rebecca Heisman is a science writer based in eastern Washington who loves nerding out about birds. She’s contributed to publications including Audubon, Sierra, Hakai Magazine, bioGraphic, Living Bird (the magazine of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), and Bird Conservation (the magazine of the American Bird Conservancy), and has worked for the American Ornithological Society (AOS), the world’s largest professional organization for bird scientists.
"Illuminating...Flight Paths does what only the best science books do: It adds to our knowledge of the world without diminishing its wonder." — Wall Street Journal
“Science writer Rebecca Heisman's contribution to this literature, however, focuses not on globe-girdling avians, but on the scientists who advanced our understanding of their wondrous behavior... Heisman animates technical details with lively interviews and visits to search labs. A birder herself, she tries spotting silhouettes against the Moon, visits banding stations, and rises early to take part in nationwide bird counts. With many species in steep decline, the task of tracing migration patterns takes on a renewed importance.” — Natural History magazine
"Heisman...creates a skillful and accessible narrative about how we research and understand bird migration, from the first birds ever to be banded to current methodologies...A fascinating treat for avid bird-watchers." — Kirkus Reviews
“Science writer Heisman debuts with a winning examination of the seasonal movements of birds, tracing how scientific understanding of bird migration has evolved and detailing the technologies that ornithologists employ to study them today…Heisman pulls off the impressive feat of making technical discussions of genome sequencing and isotope analysis accessible, and the profiles offer revealing glimpses into the process and production of scientific knowledge. Admirers of Scott Weidensaul’s A World on the Wing will find this a treat.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Flight Paths is a vital wake-up call to birders, ornithological societies and governments" — New Scientist
“It’s amazing how much effort it has taken to understand that birds migrate and where to. The super-dedicated men and women who conduct these studies are celebrated here by Rebecca Heisman in a fascinating account of discovery.” — Frans de Waal, author of Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist
"Flight Paths is a delight, and the ground-breaking bird migration scientists whom Rebecca Heisman profiles in this fascinating book are a wonderfully unconventional lot. Heisman is the ideal guide to their world—curious, chatty, and adept at making sometimes complex research easily understandable. I can’t recommend it highly enough." — Scott Weidensaul Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Living on the Wind and A World on the Wing
"Flight Paths reads like a cross between a great detective story and riveting science fiction, except that the science here is all fact. Migratory birds span the globe through incredible feats of navigation and endurance, and the researchers who have uncovered their secrets are just as fascinating as the birds themselves." — Kenn Kaufman, author of the Kaufman Field Guide series, Kingbird Highway, and A Season on the Wind
"This is a must-have book for bird nerds. Heisman sends you aloft on warbler wings for an unforgettable journey through the world of avian migration. You'll meet beguiling birds and the people who study them, and you'll learn how bird-tracking technology has improved so that once-hazy maps now click into focus. It's an enthralling trip that'll leave you feeling inspired and connected." — Rosemary Mosco, award-winning nature cartoonist, bird artist, and science book author