Book review: An Eye for Birds by Bruce Kendrick

Imagine this!

The year is 1957. A 10-year-old boy, in sickly condition, is rushed to a hospital with an acute infectious lung condition that threatens to claim his life.

He is saved by the medics but next stop is a sanatorium where, during the latter weeks of a six-month recuperation from tuberculosis, he develops a crush on a "gorgeous blonde" ward sister.

"One November afternoon, she sits cross-legged on my bed," he writes "My eyes turn to the sheer denier of her black stockings

"She spots me looking at her legs, and I blush. She smiles a knowing smile . . .

It could almost be the start of a slightly racy novel or film script, but, no, An Eye for Birds, abruptly shifts direction and becomes a book about birds and Nature.

The sanatorium is located in woodland where he is fascinated by the birds, of many plumage types and sizes, that he regularly sees from the windows of the veranda.

For his 11th birthday, his visiting father gives him a copy of The Observer Book British Birds. So now he can soon identify blue tits, blackbirds, wrens and great tits "with their large black stripe down their yellow bellies like a circus clown's outfit.

All these glimpses are, in their own way, 'spark' moments, Suddenly the author, Bruce Kendrick, is hooked. He has become a birdwatcher.

What follows next is an absorbing retrospective not just of his often memorable encounters with birds but also of parallel life-affirming experiences such as Swinging Sixties nights out at the Kraal, a nightclub in New Brighton where "glamorous girls swivel their hips and look magnificent in their back-combed bee-hive hairdos".

Also recalled is his first visit, aged 13, to Goodison Park where he watched his beloved Everton beat Chelsea 4-0.

Threaded into the narrative is the bountiful childhood camaraderie he shares with three Wallasey-area birding school pals (Mac, Rob and Roy), reflections on his ever-deepening relationship with Nature, a sprinkling of  philosophical flourishes and hints of his distaste for privilege (Prince Harry gets a mention) and social inequality).

There is a beautiful lyrical quality to much of the writing - for example, his description of the yellow wagtail as "a little piece of sunshine" and of he and his chums "bimbling" through the boggy edges of a marsh

And what a remarkable combination of memory and literary skill that he can bring to life so vividly events in his life that occurred some 60 years ago!

He does not have quite sufficient reminiscences to fill the book, so he makes up the difference with trenchant observations on the impact of pesticides on farmland wildlife and on the continuing persecution of raptors on grouse estates.

An Eye for Birds, which is delightfully illustrated, will strike a chord with many birdwatchers, especially those of a certain vintage. It is published in paperback bat £18.99 by Whittles Publishing (

What happened to the beautiful ward sister at the sanatorium? We never get to find out. Perhaps a novel awaits. . .