Thursday, May 23, 2013

The World's Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still: A review

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder.)

The most striking thing about this fascinating book is the wonderful photographs of birds. Many of the photographs were obtained through the method of organizing and running an international photo competition. More than 300 photographers from around the world submitted over 3,500 photographs. The winning images along with 800 others appear in the book. Yes, this is a very photo-rich volume! 

There are some 650 birds that are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered by conservation groups which monitor the status of birds in the wild. There are a number of those species that have never been photographed. They may, in fact, be extinct, but at the very least they have rarely been seen and no usable photographs exist. This category includes some 76 species and these were illustrated for the book by Polish artist Tomasz Cofta. But for the rest of the birds included here, photographs were obtained.

The book begins with several introductory pages which explain the diversity and distribution of birds around the world. For example, we learn that the birdiest places on Earth are the northern half of South America and the islands of Indonesia. 

Further, it explains how bird species are assigned to certain threat categories and goes on to explore the many threats which these rare birds - and, indeed, all birds - face. Most of these threats are related to human activities and include things like residential and commercial development, agricultural practices, logging, energy production and mining, dams, etc.

There are threats to birds which know no borders. Birds on migration face habitat degradation, hunting, trapping, as well as the growing menace of powerlines and wind turbines. The need for aggressive conservation practices is paramount. 

Following the very informative introductory sections, the book is divided into seven regional sections--Europe and the Middle East; Africa and Madagascar; Asia; Australasia; Oceanic Islands; North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; and South America. Each of the geographical sections includes an illustrated directory to the bird species under threat there, and gives a concise description of distribution, status, population, key threats, and conservation needs. 

Finally, there are some sixty species of birds that are considered "Data Deficient." This simply means that they are so poorly known that their threat status cannot be assessed. But there is summary information included which details their presumed population trend, the population size (if known), the apparent distribution, and, when possible, notes on status, habitat preferences, and ecology. 

There is an enormous wealth of information here which would be of interest to bird lovers everywhere and to everyone who is concerned with protecting and preserving these wonderful creatures whose very existence is so seriously threatened by our activities. It is a concise and easily accessible compendium of what is known about these birds and, most importantly, about ways that interested individuals and groups can work to assist their survival.

(A copy of this book was provided to me free-of-charge by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.)

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