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A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife

WARNER SHEDD. Harmony, $20 (304p) ISBN 0-609-60529-1

Owls can't learn beans compared with ravens and jays; they are, however, "superb killing machines," with "virtually silent flight" and wonderful ears --"sightless owls, can catch mice by sound alone." Combining reader-friendly wildlife biology and ecology with the folklore of the New England woods, Shedd uses common mistakes as springboards for 24 entertaining essays about the real lives, habits and characteristics of various well-known animals. Most concern mammals, from weasels to white-tailed deer, though "The Newt and the Red Eft" get a chapter to themselves, or to itself (the two names describe pond- and land-dwelling stages of the same animal). Moose, it turns out, gained in numbers in northeastern forests after timber companies' clear-cuts created vast "moose pastures" of young trees. Flying squirrels are really gliding squirrels, and during the winter up to eight shack up together. Shedd's helpful chapter on cougars distinguishes the Florida panther (endangered) from its cousins in the Western U.S. (fierce and thriving) and their surviving cousins in the Northeast (mostly mythical--though some poor souls returning home from the mountain states, have brought home cougar kittens as pets). Cougars (like most big cats) don't chase their prey: stalking and pouncing, they rely on surprise instead. Hikers, forest fans, armchair naturalists and others who enjoy these kinds of facts can find plenty more here on bisons, beavers, badgers, bears and other North American creatures (many elegantly depicted in illustrations by Trudy Nicholson). As for those titular bats, "most actually see quite well," though their amazing sonar system, as Shedd describes it, serves most of their in-flight needs.

Agent, Linda Roghaar. (June)

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