“A Brand-new Bird

A Brand-New Bird,

By F D Steinheimer

“A Brand-new Bird” is the entertaining story of how two German bird lovers spent most of their spare and life time experimenting to create a red canary. Hans Duncker (1881-1961) and Karl Reich (1885-1970) had in common a keen interest in bird breeding. Duncker, however, had been the more academic of both and is considered as one of the first avian geneticists. Reich on the other hand had highly praised skills in rearing and cross-breeding captive birds. He had been one of the very few breeders holding a strain of canaries singing Nightingale songs. Both conducted many experiments to hybridize Red Siskins and canaries for getting the formers “red-plumage-genes” into a canary brood.
In the end they actually never succeeded beyond an orange plumage of their canaries, and it was later up to the Englishman Jack Swift to breed a truly crimson red canary. Nevertheless, Duncker and Reich did some amazing pioneer work towards the understanding of inheritance in birds.
Besides the main story Tim Birkhead skilfully draws a historical overview on bird catching and bird song contests, explains the etymology of bird trappers’ jargon, gives many details on the early domestication of canaries, illustrates pre-war Germany, but also analyses well Duncker’s involvement in Nazi thoughts and Eugenics.
The book is well and thrillingly written. One actually wonders how so many facts and different aspects were possible to be included without loosing the red line towards the climax at the end of the book. This is a truly entertaining and informative book not only for bird breeders, ornithologists, geneticists and academics, but also for anybody with an interest in human culture and time history. It also remains the only modern book so far to stress bird keeping and its major influence on the understanding of ornithology and general biology, respectively.

Frank Steinheimer, Ornithology – Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

Je n’ai pas le souvenir d’avoir noté ça…

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