Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Three book reviews

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 5, 2013 - 3:23 PM

Little-known & Seldom-seen Birds of North America. Written and illustrated by Ben, Cathryn, and John Sill, Peachtree Publishers, soft-cover, 98 pages. This is the kind of book a non-birder would give you, either thinking you’d laugh or secretly laughing at you all the way home from the store. It identifies mock birds, like the Great-toed Clapboard Pecker. Don’t buy it. Hope no one thinks of you when they see it.

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Bird Brains: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, Budd Titlow, Lyons Press, hard cover, illustrated, 225 pages with index, $29.95.

First, the photography used in this book is excellent. Each of the 200 bird species covered here is accompanied by, with few exceptions, a beautiful full-page color photo.

Now for the content. Someone who understands the subject should have edited the book. I don’t think there was an editor at all. Word economy could be pursued. And fact checking. A fact-checker would have been money well spent. And someone who knew a cliché when they saw one. Titlow certainly does. This book is a mess.

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The Stokes couple, Donald and Lillian, have a new birding field guide on store shelves. Two books, actually, eastern and western.

I like the books for several reasons. 

These are guides illustrated with photographs, images collected from 70 different photographers. The photos generally are excellent. Most show the bird in profile, a familiar presentation.

The information on how to use the book, terminology, bird parts, etc., usually several pages long, is brief here. You get essentials, particularly explanation of terms and abbreviations.

There is a code for the colors used on range maps. As a person with a red-green color-perception problem I’m pleased to say that colors I can actually see have been chosen. Good for the Stokes!

The maps are very small. just serviceable. When space gets tight, maps offer flexibility, often at their own expense. The east-west division line, by the way, runs north-south at the eastern edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

An interesting addition is the American Birding Association code for each species. The range is 1-6, indicating the ease with which each species can be found within its normal range. For example, House Sparrows are code 1, Yellow Rail, a Minnesota nester, code 2.
The majority of species in North America are code 1, assuming you are where you should be to find the bird. 

The only non-owl species nesting in Minnesota and ranked higher than code 1 is the code-2 Henslow’s Sparrow. We have six species of code-2 owls: Snowy, Northern Hawk-owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet.

From two to several photos are used for each species. This depends upon maturity, seasonal changes, and color morphs. Each photo contains information on where (state) and when (year) the photo was taken. Text is small in size and brief, but helpful.

The book has a soft cover, perfect (glued vs. sewn) binding, 496 pages with index for the Eastern version, 576 pages for the Western book. This is not a book made for a pocket of usual size. This is a reference book, and well done as such.

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