Springtime reading

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.


Spring seems to have arrived a bit early this year. I suspect it may cause some of us to act a bit earlier than usual on springtime activities. One of the things I do in this season is to begin looking out for some good books for my summertime reading. Those days at the cottage or evenings on the backyard patio are definitely better with a good book. If you agree, I have two reading suggestions and a project for you to consider.


The first book is called, The Bird Detective, written by Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University. Stutchbury is also an international birding expert who, as the book cover suggests, has been "investigating the secret lives of birds". It's a great backyard read because there's a good chance there'll be birds nearby, allowing some sleuthing of your own, as you read.


The book is packed with very interesting information - much of it newly acquired - on birds, the true harbingers of spring. For example, did you know that purple martens, who spend our summers with us, have an amazing migration story? Fitting them with tiny backpacks, containing geolocators, scientists have uncovered an amazing fact. Purple martens can leave their South American home, near the Amazon River in Brazil, and arrive in Southern Ontario, a mere 2 weeks later. This means these small swallow size birds must be traveling 400-500 kilometres per day. We also learn about the amazing parenting skills possessed by birds. Can you imagine raising triplets or quintuplets and having to feed each of them, as they rapidly grow, 30 times a day? Cooperation, between parents, at such times, is key.


Nevertheless, the author also reveals details that prove not all is rosy in the bird world. Some adult birds display behaviours that can only be thought of as betrayal of their partner, adultery and divorce. Some songbirds that live in both urban and rural environments may be evolving into separate species, unable to communicate with one another. Finally, just as it does for us, global warming threatens the future for many birds.


Nature is still the subject area but it's very different information in the next Pet Tales Pick. Philip Hoare has written The Whale. Though you probably won't find them in your backyard, as you're reading, it's a book I thoroughly enjoyed. It traces the cultural history of whales from the Biblical story of Jonah to the movie, Free Willy. Along the way, there is a recounting of the troubled history between humans and this largest, loudest and oldest of animals, the whale.


Whether your experience with whales has been to see them at Marineland, sighting them on a whale-watching excursion, or reading about them in this book, I don't know how anyone could fail to be impressed with these magnificent animals. This book will only increase your understanding and amazement with them, as you learn more details about whales. Try to imagine, therefore, the shock and dismay I felt, when after just reading this book, last week a client told me something else about whales.


The International Whaling Commission has just unveiled a proposal to legalize commercial whale hunting for the first time in 24 years. Furthermore, our Canadian government has taken no stand on the issue. Whales need our help. Surely, now knowing so much more about this marvelous co-inhabitant of our world, we cannot go back to the dark days of their slaughter almost to extinction.


I would encourage you to study the issue. Visit www.avaaz.org to sign a petition to let your voice be heard against this unnecessary killing of whales. I believe we should also be asking our government to take a stand against commercial whale hunting. The rhythm of life is a powerful beat. We must not let anything risk breaking the rhythm of the whales. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital,ca