The Atlas of Birds. Diversity, Behavior and Conservation.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Askins, Robert A.
Pub Date: 03/01/2012
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: March, 2012 Source Volume: 124 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior and Conservation (Reference work)
Persons: Reviewee: Unwin, Mike
Accession Number: 285207267
Full Text: THE ATLAS OF BIRDS. DIVERSITY, BEHAVIOR AND CONSERVATION. By Mike Unwin. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. 2011: 144 pages; many unnumbered photographs and maps. ISBN: 9780-691-14949-3. $22.95 (paper).--This was not the book I anticipated from the title. We now have a remarkable new perspective of the geography of birds from geographic information system-generated maps of bird habitats, large-scale bird atlas and roadside survey projects, and migratory tracks of individual birds equipped with satellite transmitters. This information can be used to delineate biodiversity hotspots (including those that span international borders); document range expansions and contractions that may or may not be driven by climate change; and identify critical migratory routes and stopover sites. Synthesizing this information into a single book would make a major contribution to our understanding of the status and vulnerabilities of birds. Although some of this information is included in The Atlas of Birds, such as maps of migration routes based on satellite tracking of Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) and an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), this is not a major focus of the book.

The Atlas of Birds is filled with maps, but these are primarily the traditional types of maps one finds in ornithology textbooks or other general books on ornithology. The goal is to provide an overview of the biology, distribution, and conservation of birds throughout the world. Maps illustrate the distribution of all bird Orders and a few select families, the location of protected and unprotected Important Bird Areas (IBAs), and the approximate location of major migratory flyways. Other maps serve as backdrops to show the locations for particular examples that are described in capsule summaries illustrated with photographs arrayed around the map. The maps showing the distribution of Orders and families are attractive and easy to read, but the IBA maps are too small to provide more than a general sense of the distribution of IBAs on each continent.

Many of the maps and examples were provided by Birdlife International, providing a rich source of information on global distribution of birds. Many of the examples emphasize the importance of IBAs and the conservation work of Birdlife International and its partners. The information typically is derived from sources in particular countries, and the book emphasizes comparisons of number of bird species, endemic species, IBAs, and threatened species in different countries. Comparisons among nations are frequent in the text and maps, and there is an Appendix dedicated to statistics for each country. These comparisons are presented without sufficient discussion of how the data may reflect the number of active birders and ornithologists in each country, and the history and level of support for the IBA program in different regions. For example, the United Kingdom may have more recorded bird species than any other European country because of a large number of experienced birdwatchers who frequently detect rare birds rather than because it supports a particularly diverse array of birds.

The author was successful in achieving his primary goal, which apparently was to produce a well-illustrated overview of bird biology and conservation, not to develop a book incorporating new sources of geographical information on birds. Many of the basic concepts of ornithology and bird conservation are discussed in an accessible and engaging style. In describing differences in courtship displays among different species of birds, Mike Unwin writes that "each species has its own routine" (page 72), and he succinctly describes passerines as "small birds that sing" (page 60). Ravens (Corvus spp.) aside, that is an accurate and memorable definition, particularly when it is followed with a succinct description of the passerine syrinx. Key topics such as the evolutionary history of birds; the structure and adaptations of feathers; and the effect of introduced, invasive species on birds are summarized succinctly. Each topic is covered in a short essay on a single page, complemented by a facing page with select examples illustrated by photographs. This provides a useful introduction to bird biology and conservation for anyone with a general interest in birds, and this book might be an appropriate text for an informal course or workshop in ornithology. It is not sufficiently comprehensive to be used as a text in a more advanced course. Some important topics are not covered or are only briefly mentioned. Theories about how birds navigate over great distances are summarized in a single, brief paragraph (page 79), and complex communal social groups with cooperative breeding are briefly mentioned in a single example.

The concise discussions of major areas of biology require some simplification. This is not a problem, but there are occasional minor mistakes. Bird migration is almost certainly older than "the end of the last Ice Age" (page 78). "Anisodactyl" is defined incorrectly on page 60, but correctly on page 66. The "semi-plume (contour)" feather illustrated on page 18 appears to be a contour feather with a downy base, not a semiplume feather with only downy barbs. Careful editing of the manuscript would have caught these and other minor problems. Careful review would have also prevented mislabeling of some illustrations. The photographs of "African Spoonbill" and "Sacred Ibis" on page 49 appear to be photographs of Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) and White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), respectively.

Mike Unwin deftly manages the complexities of shifting avian taxonomy resulting from molecular studies, describing the status of particular taxonomic groups (such as New World vultures) in both traditional and revised taxonomies. The discussions of different Orders of birds include this perspective except for the section on passerines, which does not mention molecular evidence of convergent evolution of distantly related passerine lineages in Australia and on other continents. The complexities of passerine taxonomy are probably beyond the scope of this book, however.

The final chapters on global threats to birds and international efforts to save birds and their ecosystems provide a good overview for anyone interested in setting personal priorities for bird conservation. The descriptions of conservation success stories (pages 122-123) are particularly effective. The sections on bird conservation, along with the accessible introduction to some basic bird biology, makes the book worthwhile for amateur naturalists and conservationists.--ROBERT A. ASKINS, Katherine Blunt Professor of Biology, Connecticut College, New London, CT 06320, USA; e-mail: raask@conncoll.edu
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.