Friday, March 04, 2011

Atlas of Rare Birds by Dominic Couzens

Thanks to Bonnie again for bringing home beautiful books. This time it is Atlas of Rare Birds by Dominic Couzens, an English ornithologist and author of other books on international birding. In his new atlas, he identifies fifty seldom-seen birds about which the environmental community is concerned. Many are endangered, and some may even be extinct. Each bird gets a four page profile with maps and colorful illustrations that make readers want to trek to the most remote islands, lakes, and mountains. There are five profiles in each of ten chapters, with each chapter focusing on a particular species status. Some of these chapters are upbeat and engender hope for conservation efforts, such as "Back from the Brink" which tells about five birds whose populations have rebounded after being reduced to a few breeding individuals. Other chapters, such as "Unexplained Calamities" and "Lost Causes," let readers know how difficult it is saving birds from habitat destruction, the introduction of competitors and predators, and natural causes.

There is only one bird in Atlas of Rare Birds that I have seen in the wild, a bird that is actually very abundant at this time. The lesser flamingo of Africa seems to be a species that is widely spread across the Great Rift Valley, southern Africa, and along the western coast of the continent. What is not realized by many is that there are a limited number of breeding locations to which all flamingos return, alkaline lakes that may dry up if global warming continues. Being a bird of very specific needs, the lesser flamingo can not quickly adapt to changing conditions. Its great numbers could plummet very quickly.

I have seen Bali mynas at the Brookfield Zoo and whooping cranes at the Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I'd like to see more of the species, but I will have to appreciate most by reading this and other books. I will just dream of seeing the Gurney's pitta in Thailand, the Araripe manakin in Brazil, and the ultramarine lorikeet in French Polynesia. At least I know they are there and hope that conservation efforts succeed in protecting them.

Couzens, Dominic. Atlas of Rare Birds. MIT Press, 2010. ISBN 9780262015172.

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