Stray Feathers

eBook - June 2011 - eRetailers Google Books Kobo

Superbly illustrated with black and white drawings of a range of birds, Stray Feathers showcases some of the remarkable adaptations of Australian birds.

Stray Feathers showcases some of the remarkable adaptations of Australian birds. A brief introduction describes how evolution shapes form and function, followed by a series of vignettes illustrating the wondrous variety of forms and functions shaped by evolution. For example, did you know that Barn Owls can hunt in absolute darkness and that cuckoos commence incubation before their egg is laid? + Full description

Sections include anatomy and physiology; the senses; giving voice; tongues talking; plumage; getting around; finding and handling food; optimising foraging and feeding; reducing competition; using ‘tools’; communicating; quality vs quantity; courtship; nests; parental care; chicks; and living together.

The book is superbly illustrated with black and white drawings of a range of birds, making it a worthy addition to the bookshelves of bird lovers everywhere.

- Short description


No longer available in a print edition.

Listen to Leo Joseph explore the world of birds as a regular guest on ABC Local Radio's Mornings with Angela Owens.


"... a very good addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in birds."
Matt Wood, Bulletin of the British Ecological Society, 43 (2), 2012

"The book is packed with well-written prose and interesting information. I have been doing research on birds in Australia off and on for 30 years, but I found lots of things in this book that I did not know, and much of what I know was expressed in a most entertaining and informative manner. The black and white drawings are of uniformly high quality and aesthetically pleasing. I cannot imagine anyone interested in birds not fining this book informative and delightful - it is a good read."
William E Davis, Jr, Marine Ornithology, Vol 40 (76–80), 2012

"The writing is well done and the topics are very interesting."
P.K Lago, Choice, June 2012 Vol. 49 No. 10

"This intriguing book offers a fascinating glimpse into the diversity of Australian birds…. Stray Feathers would be a worthwhile read for anyone interested in birds, from the amateur, for whom this is likely to open up a whole new world, to the (budding) professional, for whom it is likely to be the source of new ideas, new examples, and the occasional new thought pattern along the lines of ‘I wonder if anyone has studied...’ " Anne Goodenough, Ibis, Volume 154, Issue 1, January 2012

"This book is immensely readable and is entertaining, informative and inspiring. It will stimulate and enlarge the reader’s love of birds and most likely promote a closer style of observation and a deeper understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. The illustrations are at times captivating and are always clear and accurate depictions of birds in the business of going about their lives."
Louis Maul, Corella 35(4), December 2011

"Stray Feathers is packed with scientific material, although it is primarily written as a non-scientific text. The authors have limited the use of scientific jargon, creating a book that can be understood and appreciated by amateur birders, students and academics alike. A notable difference between this book and scientific literature is the absence of references to scientific publications throughout text. As an alternative, the authors provide a further reading section at the end of the book where interested readers can look up scientific publications related to the specific topics and examples presented in the book. This format results in a book that can be a very relaxing breath of fresh air for those of us who spend our days reading scientific articles.

"What a pleasure to see a book intended for a general audience which unashamedly includes 'evolution' in its title. This is a great book, written by two if this country’s most respected ornithologists."
Greg Czechura, Wildlife Australia Magazine, Summer 2011, pp. 43

Most illustrations were drawn by Trisha Wright, and the rest by a handful of artists who are noted in the acknowledgements... I wish to give high praise to these artists, for each drawing wonderfully compliments the text. Overall, I would recommend this book to be a wonderful addition to bookshelves of all bird lovers and ornithologists."
Branislav Igic, Emu-Austral Ornithology, Vol 112, Issue 1, March 2012

"... much of the reading really is a pleasure too, especially for anyone (and isn’t that everyone?) who delights in learning new things about this wonderful land that we have the privilege of living in. I am intrigued to learn that male Great Bowerbirds arrange their decorative objects – stones, shells, bones, etc. – in a gradient of size, increasing with distance from the bower, so that from the distant female’s perspective he stands out and looks larger than life… Get from it what you enjoy and want, and peck away later at the rest; it’s all very rewarding."
Ian Fraser, Canberra Times, 17 September 2011, p.32

"The technically correct and beautifully drawn black-and-white illustrations are superb… It contains much intriguing information written, as might be expected from two such eminent research scientists, with accuracy, clarity and appeal, and the illustrations are magnificent. Any amateur ‘birdo’ with an inquiring mind would be delighted to be given this volume as a Christmas, birthday or non-birthday present—a stray $60 well spent!"
Alan Lill, Australian Field Ornithology 2011, Vol 28 ( 4), December 2011

"Stray Feathers is structured in a way that makes it easy to delve into at any point, and is a well-researched and appealing topic."
Rebecca L. Stewart, Wingspan, Spring 2011, p.49

"Stray Feathers describes the biology and behaviour of Australian birds, presented in a way that is fascinating, easy-to-read and scientifically sound... it will appeal to all amateur and experienced birders who wish to know more about what makes Australia’s birds tick."
Don Saunders, The Bird Observer, August 2011, p.45


ePDF | June 2011
ISBN: 9780643103443
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers

ePUB | June 2011
ISBN: 9780643103450
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers


  • Gives the reader a deeper understanding of the role of evolution in shaping the form and function in birds
  • Lets the reader appreciate how amazing birds are
  • Superb illustrations


Anatomy and physiology
The senses
Giving voice
Tongues talking
Getting around
Finding and handling food
Optimising foraging and feeding
Reducing competition
Using ‘tools’
Quality vs quantity
Parental care
Chicks: behaving badly; behaving well
Living together: same species
Living together: different species

View the full table of contents.


Penny Olsen AM is a research scientist and experienced author and editor, with a fascination for birds. She has written 14 books, four of which have won Whitley Awards, and over 200 papers in refereed journals. An Associate Professor at the Australian National University, she sits on various conservation and natural resource management committees and hopes to keep writing about Australia’s wonderful wildlife until she drops off the perch.

Leo Joseph is the Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, Canberra. He has been involved in ornithology as an amateur and research scientist for some 35 years and has published widely in national and international scientific journals. From 1997-2005, he was the Research Curator in the Department of Ornithology, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. Passionate about the evolution of Australian birds, he sees this book as an opportunity to acquaint a broad audience with the spectacular results of evolution in Australian birds.