Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Note: The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation

With nearly 10,000 species, birds are easily the most diverse class of vertebrate animals. In addition to being diverse, birds are also highly visible, with all but a relative few species groups being active during the day. These traits make birds an attractive subject for scientific research and citizen science projects, so that there is a lot of published data about them. Mike Unwin presents a wealth of this data in graphical form in The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation.

While the book is called an atlas, it is not just maps. It also has numerous  photographic illustrations and statistics presented as pie charts or in some other graphic. One chapter how birds evolved and what makes them unique as a class. A second deals with relative bird diversity and protected areas across each continent. It is striking just how much more diverse the southern hemisphere, especially South America, is compared to the northern hemisphere. Then Unwin charts bird distribution by order. Very few orders are present on only one continent, but some are highly regional. A fourth chapter deals with bird behavior. The maps in this section serve mainly to show where example species live, though a few show migration routes. Most of the graphics in that chapter depict things like foraging techniques and field of vision. The fifth chapter covers the interaction between birds and humans – as meals, in culture, and as scientific subjects. The final two chapters cover conservation issues, both the many threats birds face and what is being done to protect them.

The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation is an attractive and useful reference that can provide birders a succinct view of how birds are faring around the globe.