WE ARE SPOILED for choice in this hobby: just think of the innumerable varieties, colours and species that are available to keep us happy. And yet there’s a huge tranche of birds that, by and large, remain beyond our reach. I’m talking about the magnificent avifauna of North, Central and South America.

Legal restrictions mean that, apart from a few groups such as psittacines, the birds of the Americas rarely feature in UK birdrooms. We must respect those restrictions, yet it’s tantalising to be reminded that things were different once, as Geoff Gradwell’s article on page 14 brings home. It’s hard, now, to imagine the richness of the young Geoff’s birdkeeping experience with all those superlative tanagers, honeycreepers, hummers and the rest.

If only… if only. I found myself thinking something similar during a recent visit to the US, when I had the good fortune to study many beautiful species of American wood warblers as they paused on migration on the Texas coast. Even among softbills, these glorious creatures must rank, collectively, as one of the most charismatic groups of birds in the world. But if you want to admire them, there’s no shortcut: you need to visit their haunts in the woods and parks of America.

While warbler-watching, I was also able to enjoy some of America’s thrushes: the charming members of the genus Catharus (grey-cheeked, Swainson’s, hermit and veery) and, better still, the lovely little wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina). As thrush-breeder Austin Middlemiss has reminded us (see his bulletin on page 8), these species are just occasionally found in aviculture, albeit still rarely. Studying them, an odd question struck me: why, with a couple of exceptions, are America’s thrushes all such tiddlers? In a land where bigger is often construed as better, that does seem peculiar!

■ Heartfelt thanks for the many kind comments received about our national news award (details: April 25 issue). If it’s a success, it’s one we have all earned together. Inevitably, after such a “high”, the gremlins came to call last week, when it was misleading of us to describe Qatar (home of the Al-Wabra Foundation) as “war-torn”. Thanks to those readers who pointed this out. Enjoy your week!


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