Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Book Note: Audubon Backyard Birdwatch

Audubon Backyard Birdwatch by Stephen Kress introduces readers to the world of backyard birds. The text is divided into three main sections. The first covers basic information about birds and their behavior - singing, reproduction, how and why birds migrate, and seasonal distribution patterns. The second part describes the role of backyard habitat. Most of the section deals with bird feeders, but there is also some information on providing bird-friendly plantings for food and shelter. The third section gives tips for learning to identify birds, including attention to structure and range.

The back of the booklet contains a foldout sheet with illustrations of many common species that frequent backyard feeders and plantings. Identification tips accompany the illustrations. The species selection is biased towards the eastern half of the continent, and the Northeast and Midwest in particular. The only exceptions are eastern species with western analogues (e.g., Blue Jay and Steller's Jay). For that reason, the identification materials will be most useful to a birder in the northeastern quadrant of the U.S.

Backyard birdwatching plays a larger role in conservation than you might think. Government studies consistently show that a far greater number of people watch birds in their own backyards than travel to see birds. Unfortunately both groups have diminished since their peak in 1991, even as scientific research confirms the importance of backyard habitat. Audubon Backyard Birdwatch would be a good starting point for someone who wants to help birds but does not know much about them.