Golden Wings & Hairy Toes

Encounters with New England’s Most Imperiled Wildlife

Todd McLeish

This book profiles fourteen of New England’s most rare and endangered flora and fauna—mammals, birds, insects, plants, and fish—by following the biologists who are researching, monitoring, and protecting them. Each chapter includes a first-person account of the author’s experience with these experts, as well as details about the species’ life history, threats, and conservation strategies. McLeish traps bats in Vermont and lynx in Maine, gets attacked by marauding birds in Massachusetts, and observes the metamorphosis of dragonflies in Rhode Island. He visits historical cemeteries to see New England’s rarest plant, tracks sturgeon in the Connecticut River, and observes a parade of what may be the rarest mammal on earth, the North Atlantic right whale, in Cape Cod Bay. The book’s title comes from the name of one of the birds in the book, the golden-winged warbler, and the unusual characteristic used to distinguish the rare Indiana bat from its common cousins, its hairy toes. McLeish, a longtime wildlife advocate and essayist, has a gift for communicating scientific information in an interesting and accessible way. His goal in this book—to make an emotional connection to a variety of fascinating animals and plants—is successfully conveyed to the reader, who comes away amazed by the complexity of individual species and the ecosystems necessary for their survival. Sometimes there are surprises: how lynx benefit from the clear cutting of forests or how utility companies —often blamed for environmental degradation—have accidentally succeeded in creating excellent habitat for golden-winged warblers along their power line corridors. Such examples support McLeish’s assertion that we can meet the immense challenges to species preservation, such as global warming, acid rain, and mercury poisoning, as well as the difficulty of adding new species to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. As McLeish’s book shows, each rare species has an important story to tell about the causes of its population decline, the obstacles each face in rebuilding a sustainable population, and the people who go to extraordinary lengths to give these species a chance to thrive.

Paper: $19.95 | Cloth: $26 | E-book: $16.99
ISBN-13: 9781584657644
Pages: 264 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: October 31, 2007


  • [McLeish's] combination of firsthand reporting and background science is irresistible and will leave the reader caring about the ultimate fate of each species.

  • This very interesting volume offers a picture of different reasons why some species are endangered . . . An excellent writer, [McLeish] provides backgrounds, explains how each species is threatened, what its prospects are, and the work that many scientists and volunteers perform to prevent extermination . . . he gives readers an excellent picture of the difficulties experienced by both species and scientists . . . Highly recommended.

  • McLeish . . . presents keenly observant profiles of fourteen of the region's most endangered species, including birds, insects, and the Northern right whale.

    Boston Globe
  • In Golden Wings and Hairy Toes: Encounters With New England's Most Imperiled Wildlife (University Press of New England), author Todd McLeish is a sharp-eyed and fearless observer in the field. He traps bats in Vermont and lynx in Maine and survives an attack by marauding roseate terns in Buzzards Bay.

    Sunday Boston Globe
  • The reader leaves the book with a much expanded view of New England ecology and the many issues and possible endpoints faced from the constant forces of invasive species and changing climate altering the overall ecology of the New England landscape. I found this to be an unexpected, though great and powerful asset of the volume that I didn’t appreciate until I was nearly through all its pages. The bottom line is that ‘Golden Wings & Hairy Toes’ is a good read. It’s entertaining, informative, insightful and at times suspenseful and alarming regarding the ultimate fate of these rare species. I’m not sure what more you could ask from any book.

    Narragansett Bay Journal

About the Author

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