This book review blog has gone to the birds! As any frequent reader must have noticed, I have written many reviews of bird-related books lately. In front of me now is The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation by Mike Unwin, an attractive paperback reference book on birds from Princeton University Press. It is not really meant to be read straight through, but I am finding very few pages to skip.
The author points out in his introduction how by being so omnipresent and visible, birds established themselves as an indicator of the health of specific habitats and the earth as a whole. Today numerous factors are contributing to declines in the populations of many birds, habitat destruction being the leading cause.
There are many observations throughout that fascinate me:
Bird diversity concentrates on tropical and subtropical regions, especially in forests. Russia, which is over 60 times larger than Ecuador, hosts only 645 bird species while the small tropical South American country hosts a whopping 1,515 species.
About 6,900 species are found in the forests of the earth while about 200 are found in its deserts.
Birds migrate at various altitudes. Bar-headed geese fly at 29,000 feet.
William Shakespeare mentioned doves 60 times in his plays, more than any other bird. Geese were second at 44 and eagles third at 40.
Illegal hunting of songbirds in Southeastern Europe threatens the survival of numerous migrating species. Most of the illegally killed birds are smuggled into Italy for the restaurant trade.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds with over a million members is the world's largest bird conservation organization. With Audubon and other regional groups it forms BirdLife International, which is identifying and securing sanctuaries around the world.
A beginning birder wishing to understand the world of birds and veteran bird advocates can both learn much from The Atlas of Birds.
Unwin, Mike. The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation. Princeton University Press, 2011. 144p. ISBN 9780691149493.