Vesper Flights

Sep 9, 2020 | Reviews

For Helen Macdonald, author of Vesper Flights,
swifts seem to her to be ‘the closest thing to aliens on Earth.’

Sadly the swifts have now left us for the winter. However, if swallows, swifts and martins are a source of endless fascination for you, as well as joy at their arrival in England and sadness at their autumn departure, you will want to read Helen Macdonald’s beautiful new essay on swifts, which seem to her to be ‘the closest thing to aliens on Earth.’

Macdonald describes how, on warm summer evenings, the birds do something remarkable. They gather at around six hundred feet, then rapidly ascend to six or even eight thousand feet. Known as ‘vesper flights’, these are thought to be a way for the birds to reset their navigation systems.

This is a beautiful book of collected essays. Macdonald studied the history of science, a powerful combination of hard facts and social inquiry. From this background, Macdonald’s essays explore deeply the relationship between the environment, humanity and the birds and beasts that inhabit both arenas, sometimes adapting, sometimes suffering.

Part science, part nature, part philosophy and part a call to arms in defence of the natural world, Vesper Flights should go on your reading list today, irrespective of whether your background is urban or rural or at some point in between.