National Geographic Bird-Watcher’s Bible
I’ve been privileged to review some very beautiful coffee-table type books for 10,000 Birds. But when you get a volume from National Geographic, it’s no surprise that it’s going to be in the upper echelons of aesthetic appeal. With everything from two-page Audubon spreads to Roger Tory Peterson id charts to vintage photographs of ladies in elaborate hats feeding pigeons, this book has something for every eye. No page goes undecorated, untouched by color and line.
And what about the stuff between the pictures, content-wise? Well “A Complete Treasury” is a bold claim, one that no one could ever completely live up to. But editor Jonathan Alderfer certainly gives it the old college try. Aiming solidly at those in the learning phases of bird watching, he alternates sections on bird biology — topics like flight and migration, life cycles, and anatomy — with primers on how to select and maintain a feeder, do a basic sketch, and understand field guides. He also throws in whimsical sidebars — Chicken Run is included in the list of top-grossing bird movies — and charming asides like Scott Weidensaul’s “birdographies”, or thumbnail sketches of “the world’s favorite birds” (by what criteria they were selected I am unsure, but in keeping with the season I assume a Pew poll or five.) Weidensaul also provides the introduction, “The Birds in Your World”, and the chapter on flight and migration, and since he is among my favorite nature writers I cannot complain about this at all. Kimball Garrett and Catherine Herbert Howell also contribute ably to the text.
As lovely as the presentation is in every aspect, a lot of the information contained in this book is likely to be familiar to a hard-core birder. But all those friends and relatives you’ve been mentoring — and you have been mentoring new birders, right? — could probably learn a lot from it if you leave it strategically placed near your couch and then act boring. Or, you could give it to them outright, or something. But then you would not get to keep all the pretty for yourself.