A Naturalist amid Tropical Splendor

Dana Gardner

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240 pages, 33 drawings

"A Naturalist amid Tropical Splendoris a beautifully written account of life, especially about bird behavior, in tropical America, and it is full of fascinating tidbits about hummingbirds, oropendolas, castlebuilders, and more. It rests squarely on the ornithological expertise and patience with such beautiful, unusual, and little-known species…Skutch's statement poses the eternal question of our place in nature, our 'right' role, and our value for that web of connectedness. I like it very much and others will too."—Robin Doughty

In this reflective account of life in the tropics, Alexander Skutch offers readers both his observations and his interpretations of what he has experienced. In the many chapters about birds and their behavior, he describes a dove that defends its nest with rare courage, castlebuilders who create elaborate nests of interlaced twigs, oropendolas that cluster long woven pouches in high treetops, and an exceptionally graceful hummingbird who fails to pay for its nectar by pollinating the flowers that yield it. Skutch also describes curious plants and their flowers, including a birthwort that holds its pollinating flies captive and fern fronds that twine high up trunks in the rain forest.

With penetrating clarity, Skutch considers the significance of all this restless activity: he examines the origins of beauty and our ability to appreciate it, the foundations of tropical splendor, the factors that help us feel close to nature or alienated from it, and the possibility of consciousness and emotion in animals. He also addresses the quandary of the biologist contemplating painful experiments on animals rather than learning by direct observation, and he asserts that our capacity to care for the world around us is the truest criterion of our evolutionary advancement.

Skutch brings a thoughtful, unequaled voice to the description of the world he has grown to know and understand, a world considered forbidding by most northerners and still largely unexplored.