For the Birds Radio Program: Book Review: The Wind Masters

Original Air Date: Dec. 18, 1995

Today Laura Erickson makes a gift suggestion for hawk lovers: The Wind Masters, by Pete Dunne. 3:40

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This time of year, people are scrambling to find good last-minute gifts for family and friends. To me, when in doubt, the best choice is always a good bird book. There are plenty of field guides available, but today I’m looking at a book with information that goes beyond identification, a great new book that I strongly recommend for that special hawk lover on your shopping list.

The Wind Masters is an up close and personal storybook about the lives of hawks. It’s by Pete Dunne, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and author of several other books including my favorite guide to raptors, Hawks in Flight. Pete, who was in Minnesota earlier this month giving a speech for the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, is a genuinely nice person as well as the kind of writer who is pathologically incapable of writing anything dry or dull. In this book he outdoes himself with captivating stories, complete with plots and characterizations, about every species of hawk normally found in North America.

Pete sees the world through the eyes of his hawks. He looks from on high on a bluff on the Brooks Range and feels the wanderlust of an incubating female Peregrine. He writes:

She was … a bird whose concept of distance is defined by the horizon and whose migrations vault hemispheres; a bird whose very name, Falco peregrinus, means “wanderer.” She had incubated her clutch for twenty days, would for twelve to fourteen more, and she was restless. Restless, and perhaps in some vague fashion envious of a mate who used his morning and evening hunts to exercise and wander, leaving her to tend and defend.

He draws a wonderful corollary between a basic belief of Christianity and nestling survival in a Cooper’s Hawk nest. And he tells a tragic tale of a Golden Eagle dying from lead poisoning, writing of “her life imploding like a cold, spent star.”

His writing is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes angry, sometimes lyrical, but always vivid. He writes in the introduction that the reason he chose to write a book of stories was:

In stories, Condors can dream, Red-tailed hawks can seek affection, and Goshawks can kill with pleasure. In this book you will meet a Black Vulture on his way to a picnic, a sexually­ frustrated Harris ‘ Hawk, and a Raven who quotes poetry at the death of an eagle.

Pete’s 33 stories are organized to follow an annual cycle, and even though a given species account will not include every fact about that bird’s life, once you’ve finished the full year’s stories, you’ll have a clear view of what a hawk’s life is all about, and many vivid memories to conjure up when watching hawks winging along Lake Superior or just going about their day to day business.

David Sibley’s striking black-and-white illustrations set the text off to perfection. The Wind Masters is a great gift idea for anyone who loves the Northland’s abundance of hawks and wants to learn more about them. Even friends who don’t know a hawk from a handsaw but do enjoy good storytelling and vivid, elegant writing will appreciate finding The Wind Masters under their tree.