Far from being the encumbrance and sign of retribution portrayed in Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an albatross is a welcome and impressive sight — and one that Coleridge himself never experienced. The so-called shy albatross shown above belongs to this diverse grouping of seabirds, which inhabits the Antarctic and Pacific oceans. Albatrosses by W. L. N. Tickell (Yale University Press, $60), from which the picture is taken, is a comprehensive account of the 13 groups of albatrosses, and compares their natural history, breeding, flight and ecology. Measures to reduce the numbers that in the past have been inadvertent victims of the fishing industry are also described. The book's final chapter looks at some poems in which these birds have figured; it is called “The Mariner syndrome”.