Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland

Field guides to birds are many. Birders often have Sibley's Guide to Birds or any number of books from Audubon, Roger Tory Peterson, or National Geographic. Add to these state and local guides to help spotters name what they see. Each has illustrations or photographs of species and basic data about locations and behavior. There are also guides to nests, eggs, and bird songs to help. What I had not seen before is a popular guide for bird feathers. Now there is Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland, a beautiful photo guide that also explains the science of feathers and flight.

The science of feathers is complex. Feathers are made of keratin, the same protein that makes hair, nails, horns, and hooves. As feathers grow, they are filled with blood, but when they mature, the blood withdraws, and they are then lifeless. If they are lost or damaged, birds can sometimes make replacements even before their scheduled molts. Each bird has six types of feathers, and feather shapes are contoured to assist flight. Colors may come from pigments or, in the case of the blue in blue jays, come from the way light reflects off air pockets in the interlocking barbicels.

In Bird Feathers, Scott and McFarland illustrate with photographs the feathers of 397 North American species, showing at least four feathers for each. What surprises me is how little color there is in the flight feathers of many common birds. Only the short breast, neck, and head feathers show much red or yellow. The longer feathers are mostly black, gray, brown, white, or a combination thereof. Still some are beautiful feathers. My favorites are the long elegantly striped feathers of the ring-necked pheasant and the bold black and white woodpecker feathers.

Bird Feather will interest serious birders and science students. It is a good addition to public library collection.

Scott, S. David and Casey McFarland. Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species. Stackpole Books, 2010. ISBN 9780811736183.


Dan Trabue said...

Sounds interesting. My son was just asking me the other day why birds don't freeze when it gets so bitterly cold. I'm guessing this book would explain it.

ricklibrarian said...

It does a little. It spends much more text on the structures and identifying feathers. Still worth looking at just for the beauty of the subjecdt.