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A Journey through Birds

With a New Preface
From the merlin to the golden eagle, the goshawk to the honey buzzard, James Macdonald Lockhart’s stunning debut is a quest of beak, talon, wing, and sky. On its surface, Raptor is a journey across the British Isles in search of fifteen species of birds of prey, but as Lockhart seeks out these elusive predators, his quest becomes so much more: an incomparably elegant elegy on the beauty of the British landscape and, through the birds, a journey toward understanding an awesome power at the heart of the natural world—a power that is majestic and frightening in its strength, but also fragile.

Taking as his guide the nineteenth-century Scottish naturalist and artist William MacGillivray, Lockhart loosely follows the historical trail forged by MacGillivray as he ventured from Aberdeen to London filling his pockets with plants and writing and illustrating the canonical A History of British Birds. Linking his journey to that of his muse, Lockhart shares his own encounters with raptors ranging from the scarce osprey to the successfully reintroduced red kite, a species once protected by medieval royal statute, revealing with poetic immediacy the extraordinary behaviors of these birds and the extreme environments they call home.

Creatures both worshipped and reviled, raptors have a talon-hold on the human heart and imagination. With his book, Lockhart unravels these complicated ties in a work by turns reverent and euphoric—an interweaving of history, travel, and nature writing at its best. A hymn to wanderers, to the land and to the sky, and especially to the birds, Raptor soars.

384 pages | 17 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology, Natural History

Travel and Tourism: Travel Writing and Guides


“An enthralling journey. . . . This illuminating book serves as homage to a brilliant naturalist and extraordinary birds. If you loved H Is for Hawk, put this next on your reading list.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

One of Kirkus's Best Books of 2017

Kirkus Reviews

“[One of the] best books about birds and birding [of the year]. . . . The prose is so lovely that you may find yourself pondering whether this really is Lockhart’s first book.”

GrrlScientist | Forbes

“An odyssey. . . . A nature travelogue for dipping into and savoring.”


“Unique and charming. . . . This rambling, discursive, often poetic narrative should be savored.”

Library Journal

"The literary equivalent of an impressionistic painting—an assemblage of small bits that come together to form an unexpectedly satisfying whole. We see birds in a daily struggle to make a living, each in their own way—some gliding high above open land, some skimming the tops of grasses, others sitting motionless in trees, still others stealing the catch of other species. . . . What makes this natural history so deeply affecting is not just Lockhart’s knowledge of English birds, but his evocative command of the English language. The color of a marsh harrier’s plumage is described ‘like early morning fireplace ash before it is disturbed, the undercoat of grey, the black charcoal splints, the red fibrous imprint of the burnt-out logs.’ The kite, Lockhart notes, ‘is the least linear of raptors, it spends its time unravelling imaginary balls of string in the air.’ Later, watching a uniquely insectivorous predator, he tells us ‘the honey buzzard slips from its lookout branch like a shadow unhooking itself and follows in the wasp’s wake, tracking the wasp back to its nest.’ Throughout this memorable journey, Lockhart’s prose soars and hits its mark like the raptors he so admires.”

Natural History

"A beautifully written paean to flight. . . . Lockhart channels each experience with such vivid strokes that you practically peer through the binoculars with him—searching for something high up in the distance, soaring to the wind."

Jonathan Hahn | Sierra


Katharine Norbury | Guardian

“Lockhart’s first book and what a tour de force it is. He explores Britain’s wilder places in search of our resident birds of prey and, in a language that is evocative, rapturous, and sensual, conjures up our countryside at its best and worst. Raptors, perhaps more than any other animals, define our landscapes and the fragility of nature, and he beautifully evokes this in his descriptions of a ‘huge bloodshot sun finding and lighting up the delicate gold brushed into the eagle’s nape.’”


“Lockhart’s soaring debut is a perfect synthesis of travel writing and natural history. The premise of Raptor is simple. . . . Yet the fruits of his labor are anything but plain as he laces vivid prose with illuminating facts to explore his own colorful experiences without shifting focus from the birds themselves. Following in the tradition of T. H. White’s The Goshawk, J. A. Baker’s The Peregrine, and, most recently, Helen Macdonald’s rapturously received H is for Hawk, Lockhart elegantly depicts these creatures of the sky and, in so doing, celebrates the natural richness of the country over which they fly.”

Anna Godfrey | Financial Times

“Lockhart’s [book] is one to sample and savour in smaller doses. They say that the fragrance of violets only persists a few seconds before the ionone shortcircuits our sensory systems. Lockhart’s prose is so finely worked and so rich in arresting images that it has something of the same effect. . . . The birds and the landscapes are all beautifully evoked, and there are many breathtaking turns of phrase. Lockhart also has a superb eye . . . and makes some beautifully nuanced discriminations.”

Jeremy Mynott, author of "Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience" | Times Literary Supplement

“Lockhart is a wonderfully modest presence. . . . He has mastered an engaging present-tense prose that brings out both the birds’ ecstatic gifts of flight but also the tragedy and triumph of their predatory lifestyle. . . . His descriptions . . . are as precise as they are inventive.”

Mark Cocker | Observer

“In flight—as Lockhart rhapsodies—nothing is more graceful than a hawk sailing the wind. The sight, for those with eyes to see, leaves the watcher, with an ounce of poetry in their soul, ‘rapt.’ Nowhere is the paradox of nature’s combined beauty and cruelty more perfectly embodied than in these winged raptors.”

John Sutherland | Times


Nigel Andrew | Literary Review

“Outstanding. . . The writing is beautifully precise. . . . For Lockhart, it becomes clear, wild birds of prey represent the living spirit of a place—of Britain. In this delicate, complex, open-ended book, full of freshness and movement, he captures that wild spirit without ever making it feel captive.”

James McConnachie | Sunday Times

“Lockhart’s prose is . . . so intimate, urgent, and visceral as to make his darkly resonant ruminations almost unfailingly gripping.”

Matthew Adams | Independent

“Lockhart’s exquisite, poetic language is a sensuous delight without sacrificing scientific accuracy. Raptor is, quite simply, a tour de force.”

Bel Mooney | Daily Mail

“The frequent appearance of Macgillivray and his works, even his meetings with local people as he walks hundreds of miles in search of birds, adds a pleasing quirkiness to an already unusual work, beautifully evoking birds and environments. The book has a lot of informative detail within, so that in reading these accounts a good deal of learning about birds and places is inevitable. Any bird of prey fan, particularly those with an interest in these spectacular birds' changing fortunes over time, will find it irresistible, and it is thoroughly recommended.”

Rob Hume, author of "Life with Birds" | BirdGuides

"Lockhart's own understanding of raptor ethology shines. His journey—intercut with passages by Victorian ornithologist William MacGillivray—flings us into skies where a hobby ‘concertinas’ the air, or a marsh harrier’s ruff gives it the air of an Elizabethan grandee."

Barbara Kiser | Nature

"This is an extremely well-made book. For a first, it’s remarkably achieved. . . . Lockhart . . . is stepping towards the distinguished company of the great modern literary books on birds of prey. . . . But Raptor also makes its own way with originality and authenticity. The writing, at times, is as good as anything we have on the subject to date."

Country Life

"A lovely, poetic book. . . . Like any good naturalist, Lockhart relies on his ears as well as his eyes. He gets down the different calls of each bird—ttch-yup-yup, tee-yup is just right for the begging call of a young eagle—but he also gets the rhythm of each bird life and bird landscape into his prose, which is a yet more difficult achievement."

Brian Morton | Herald

"Nothing prepared me for the sustained brilliance and intensity of this book. . . . Warm, intimate, full of wonder and delight in the ways the birds revealed themselves."

Caught by the River

"Raptor rips at its words, turning them into exquisite portraits of the utter wild, shaping soaring, obsessive beauty out of the British landscape and its imperial birds."

Philip Hoare

“Part travelogue, part natural history, this is a masterful hymn to Britain’s raptors, in all their elegant glory. It’s no easy task to try and capture the wonder of these birds, from hen harriers swimming over land in an Orkney gale to a sparrowhawk displaying in a Warwickshire field, but Lockhart pulls it off.”

Choice Magazine (UK)

“Difficult to put down . . . [and] so enjoyable to read. Lockhart writes very well, painting beautiful verbal pictures of the wild raptors, the landscapes in which he finds them, and the people who occupy those often bleak districts, to say nothing of sometimes atrocious weather that he encounters. . . . Eminently readable and informative. I recommend it.”

Austringer (UK)

Table of Contents

I Hen Harrier
II Merlin
III Golden Eagle
IV Osprey
V Sea Eagle
VI Goshawk
VII Kestrel
VIII Montagu’s Harrier
IX Peregrine Falcon
X Red Kite
XI Marsh Harrier
XII Honey Buzzard
XIII Hobby
XIV Buzzard
XV Sparrowhawk


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