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THE RITES OF AUTUMN: A Falconer's Journey Across the American West by Dan O'Brien (Anchor: $9.95)

November 12, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Dan O'Brien captures the melancholy essence of fall in his thoughtful account of training a peregrine falcon raised in captivity to hunt for itself in the wild. As he follows the bird's migratory route from Montana to the Texas Gulf Coast, O'Brien wonders at the falcon's splendid adaptations to a life of predation. Although it weighs only about two pounds, the peregrine falcon is the fastest bird on earth, capable of bringing down much larger prey, including ducks and grouse. O'Brien's intense reverence for nature is so evident in these pages that even readers who dislike hunting will be captivated by his descriptions of the ancient sport of falconry.

Unlike many nature books, "Rites of Autumn" has a happy epilogue: The program to re-establish the peregrine falcon that O'Brien helped to initiate is succeeding, and the birds are returning to much of their original range. They've even adapted to urban areas (including downtown Los Angeles), where they nest on skyscrapers and feed on the ubiquitous pigeons.

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