Monday, July 18, 2011

Bird Watch: A Survey of Planet Earth's Changing Ecosystems by Martin Walters

According to Martin Walters in his new atlas Bird Watch: A Survey of Planet Earth's Changing Ecosystems, birds serve as "beacons or barometers" to the health of the environment. Though avian species thrive when conditions are favorable, they are quick to decline when habitats are damaged. People should watch birds not only because they are beautiful but also because their presence in good numbers reflects the state of the environment. By protecting birds, we protect other vulnerable species, ecosystems, and our own future.

What threatens birds? Early in the text Walters describes the causes of bird population loss according to specific types of habitats. Shorelines are polluted by chemical runoff and spills. Predatory snakes and rats are accidentally introduced to islands eat eggs and fledglings. The clear cutting of forests for lumber or to plant cash crops destroys breeding grounds. Raptors accumulate pesticides used in agricultural areas. It seems any number of human actions that transform habitats harm birds. The main danger can be summed up as habitat loss. Brilliantly colored tropical birds are also captured for the illegal trade in endangered species. Walters goes on to identify specifically what birds are most at risk in each ecosystem.

The largest part of the book is the Endangered Birds profiles and lists, arranged by families in the usual systematic sequence, beginning with flightless kiwis, tinamous, and cassowaries and then advancing past water birds and raptors, and finally ending with songbirds. The lists are international, color coding all 1,227 species on the International Conservation of Nature Red List as "critically endangered," "endangered," or "vulnerable." Students or researchers may use Walters' work to learn the names of birds they should study, but they will have to then use other resources to learn more about the species, such as appearance, location, and habits.

Walters ends Bird Watch with conservation recommendations and a list of birding hotspots for international travelers. Other than students with assignments, this attractively illustrated book will interest very serious birders and conservation professionals.

Walters, Martin. Bird Watch: A Survey of Planet Earth's Changing Ecosystems. University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 9780226872261.

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