When an unusual bird publication reached bookshops in 2005 it was greeted with universal acclaim and admiration.

A huge gamble by main author Mark Cocker and publisher Chatto & Windus had paid off. Birds Britannica, eight years in gestation, departed from tradition by being neither identification nor behavioural guide. Presented by Cocker and co-author Richard Mabey in encyclopaedia form, it contained 350 bird entries concentrating on bird history, folklore and cultural significance.

Cocker’s appeal for bird anecdotes and stories produced more than 1,000 responses from the public which he skilfully wove into readable narrative illustrated with hundreds of magnificent photographs. The book was hailed a triumph.

From red-throated diver to corn bunting through house sparrow and starling, Birds Britannica offered nuggets on every page. Thank goodness we no longer kill and hang kingfishers on string to predict weather trends.

Wild Things: A booming rat population

I've always wondered how blackbirds in a children’s nursery rhyme apparently survived an oven visit. Sing a song of sixpence a pocketful of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, when the pie was opened the birds began to sing, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king ?

Cocker explains the birds were added AFTER pies emerged from Tudor ovens. The pie, rushed to the king’s table, was cut and the indignant birds emerged squawking. Supposed entertainment for the royals.

All this is relevant now because Birds Britannica has been relaunched. Strangely, apart from a foreword by Helen Macdonald which fails to explain her credentials as author and occasional television documentary maker, editorial is unchanged from the out of print first edition. This may bring disappointment for some on reading that an EU grant will help reverse bittern decline with the target of 100 pairs in Britain by 2020. This was reached in 2019.

Wild Things: A natural remedy

There's an interesting list of pubs featuring birds in their names and brief biographies of leading ornithologists.

This sumptuous book offers much for all bird enthusiasts but would have profited from updating and editing. The text may not have been revised but the price certainly has, up from £35 to £50.

Birds Britannica by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey is published by Chatto & Windus. Price £50.