The life of the Robin

David Lack (Pallas Athene)

David Lack The life of the RobinDavid Lack was, undoubtedly, one of the leading ornithologists of his time. In a survey, done for the excellent book ‘Ten thousand birds’ (Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, Bob Montgomerie), David was not only considered the most influential ornithologist in prominence since the 1960s, he also took the top three spots for most influential books. Not bad going since the survey was completed by 31 of the world’s most senior ornithologists.

Hot on the heels of the Robin being voted Britain’s national bird in May comes a re-publishing of David’s most popular book; ‘The life of the Robin’. Fittingly it contains an introduction by Urban Birder and ‘Britain’s National Bird’ front man, David Lindo. In his introduction David states that, “his [Lack’s] words in this book are just as informative and surprising now as they were then.” And he is absolutely right.

This re-print of the updated fourth edition, published in 1965, is based on the fieldwork David did in South Devon between 1934 and 1938. The first edition was published in 1943. Having re-read it, I still feel it is one of the best, most accessible and informative books I have read about a single species of bird. The brutal chapter on fighting shows that the friendly robin, collecting worms at your feet as you garden, has a sinister side. In contrast, the chapter on tameness hints at why this bird is so revered in Britain.

The text is perfectly complemented by Robert Gillmor’s excellent original artwork; and an informative post-script by David’s son Peter gives a great insight into the celebrated man’s life and work. If you really want to get to know our national bird, look no further.

This is a timely re-release of a wonderful book, let’s hope ‘Swifts in a tower’ will be given the same attention soon.

Allan Archer – talk: Wildlife

September 2016