Birds of the World

2005 November 7
by David J. Ringer

THE METROPLEX, TEXAS — The delightful toucan eyeing us through branches makes up for Birds of the World‘s dull, if accurate, title. Accuracy is a gladness in itself, however, and it is not one we are allowed to enjoy much beyond the book’s cover. On the title page, the publisher’s own name is misspelled. The photograph credit for “Sun Concure” made me wince (it should be “Sun Conure”), but who reads photograph credits anyway? The misplaced hyphen in “Gray-crowned Crane” is probably worrisome only to sticklers, but for the record the bird’s crown is not gray. It is the Gray Crowned-Crane.

But two blatant misidentifications are completely unforgivable. Page 261 features what appears to be a Spotted Towhee — blithely labeled “Eastern Towhee.” The bird’s breast feathers seem to cover the base of its primaries, so I suppose it is possible that the bird is a hybrid, or a heavily white-spotted Eastern Towhee, if such a bird exists. Be that as it may, I can think of no excuses for the “White-throated Sparrow” on 259. The bird is a first-winter White-crowned Sparrow, as American birder of even the lowest caliber could have told the Parragon editors.

I am not up to speed on the identification of antpittas, Eurasian emberizids and finches, or broadbills. Can I trust the text to label those birds accurately?

For those able to overlook glaring textual errors, the book’s photographs are deeply rewarding. Some catch their subjects in motion, looking so lifelike that we expect the penguin to leap into the icy sea as soon as we turn the page. Others capture intimate details in the lives of common birds: the Common Treecreeper grasps an assortment of insects in its bill, and the Chimney Swift rests with its spiny-looking young on a nest cemented by strands of hardened saliva.

Many photographs are strikingly composed, like the flurry of Cattle Egrets and the “two-headed” Masked Booby. Many are so close and crisp that each feather can be studied and admired in its own right.

Purists may be disappointed that several birds were photographed in captivity. Victoria Crowned-Pigeon, Brown Kiwi, Scarlet Ibis, and Rothschild’s Myna all display prominent bands on their legs. For some species this is understandable, but the shot of flamingos is so unimaginative that it looks like it came from a small city zoo.

Nevertheless, the book presents birds many American birders have never even heard of: Green-and-gold Tanager, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Rifleman, Oilbird, Hoatzin, and Red-legged Seriema. Each is beautiful and fascinating in its own way, and this in the end is the book’s triumph. It is a breathtaking introduction to the world’s birds, and when placed on the coffee table, it could lure unsuspecting guests into a whole world they never knew existed.

“Wow, these birds are awesome!”

“Yeah … say, what are you doing Saturday morning, about 6:00 a.m.?”

Now all I need is a coffee table.

Interestingly, “Birds of the World” represents a small victory for the electronic age. Most of the photographs are taken (with permission) from Online content is now flowing onto the printed page, instead of from the printed page only. Anyone interested in pre-ordering your bound and printed copy of “Search and Serendipity: The First 10 Years”?

Related posts:

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  2. World birds online: The top collections
  3. Birding the world from home
  4. Pictures of a new world
  5. Wonder-world
2 Responses
  1. Michaela permalink
    November 7, 2005


  2. Fjord permalink
    November 7, 2005

    Only if I can get an autographed copy.

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