News & Notes

Book review: Moonbird

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
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by George SmithMoonbird cover

If he’d been in the Olympics, no one would have touched him in the marathon. In his lifetime, Moonbird, a rufa red knot, has flown more than 325,000 miles in his twenty years of life – a distance that would have taken him to the moon and half way back.

In his astonishing 9,000 mile annual migration between the southern tip of South America and the Arctic, Moonbird sometimes flies 5,000 miles in six days without stopping. I get exhausted flying from Maine to Texas, a distance of 2000 miles – and I’m just sitting in the plane!

Phillip Hoose, a Maine resident who has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1977, says Moonbird, labeled B95 for his leg band identification, “has to be among the toughest four ounces of lie in the world.”

He’s got that right. But this bird’s inspiring story is tempered by the fact that in B95s lifetime, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. A key problem has been the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay, where rufa gorge on crab eggs to sustain their long migration north.

Moonbird, A Year On The Wind With The Great Survivor B95, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, went on sale for $21.99 on July 17. I hope its flying off the shelves because this is an amazing story – with an important lesson for all of us in the tragedy of extinction.

The photographs are astonishing, the writing is crisp, and I also enjoyed the brief biographies of the key people working to rebuild rufa populations. But B95, Moonbird, is the star of the show, and what a show he’s put on for the last 20 years.

Seen on May 28 this year, in Delaware Bay, on his way north, we can only hope he’s successfully raised another family with those strong Moonbird genes and is, this month, arriving in Mingan at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, enroute south to another winter in Tierra del Fuego.

We can also hope that in the group of first-year rufas that will fly the same route a few weeks later, is a bunch of Moonbirds tough enough to stave off extinction for these wonderful creatures.


George A. Smith is an outdoor writer, newspaper columnist honored with awards from the Maine Press Association, television show host, and former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the state’s largest sportsmen’s organization. You can find out more about George’s writing on his website.