StarTribune.com

Book reviews

By Jim Williams

June 24, 2010

FEEDING WILD BIRDS: A SHORT HISTORY. I'll bet you didn't know that the black oil sunflower seed that attracts so many birds to your feeders is available because of the work of a Russian scientist. Credit V. S. Pustovoit for the effort that produced the oil-rich seed. It began in the 1960s when a Cargill employee visited Russia to learn about sunflower seed development. He came home with 100 special seeds in his pocket, given to him by his guide, who had been given the seeds to eat during a lab tour. The rest is, well, history. This is an interesting book, co-authored by Carrol Henderson, for 42 years head of the Minnesota Non-game Wildlife division of the department of natural resources. Working with him were writers Margaret Barker and Paul Baicich. We've been feeding birds in the U.S. for at least 160 years. In that time someone had to invent the various feeders, learn which grains bring which birds to your yard, and try to find a way to keep squirrels at bay (still working on that one). All these folks are in here. The book makes the point that perhaps only 10 percent of North American birds ever visit a feeder. This's why natural habitat is such an important concern. Initially, the authors say, feeding was a way to bring birds to people. Today, it also brings people to birds. The book was commissioned by George Petrides, founder of the Wild Bird Center chain of bird-supply stores. You surely can find a copy in one of those stores.

IDENTIFYING AND FEEDING BIRDS. This is the best backyard bird-feeding book I've seen. Its author is Bill Thompson III, editor of the magzine "Bird Watchers', a fine writer who knows both his subject and his readers. In 240 indexed pages, including excellent color photos, he tells us how, what, where, when, and why. The second half of the book describes the appearence, habits, and food preferences of 125 of North America's more common birds. Thompson also offers clear and useful answers to some of the most-asked questions about bird feeding. If you have no guides to bird feeding or the identification of birds likely to be seen in your yard, this could be the only book you'll ever need. It will be published by Houghton Mifflin in September, soft cover, $14.95. It comes with two free copies of Bill's magazine.

BUTTERFLIES, MOTHS, AND OTHER INVERTEBRATES OF COSTA RICA. Right, not a book about birds. It's another in a series of excellent books produced by Carrol Henderson, the gentleman mentioned above. He already has written a book about the birds of that country. This is a companion piece that broadens the natural history enjoyment a visitor can find there. Photos are (mostly) by the author. Henderson, who has been to Costa Rica 41 times, leads nature tours to that country among others. If you're going to visit Costa Rica, with or without Henderson, take this book and the bird guide with you. The book is published by the University of Texas Press, soft cover, $29.95. Henderson's other books: One of the best bird stories told in years can be found in "Oology and Ralph's Talking Eggs."

THE BIRDS OF PERU, REVISED AND UPDATED. Part of the excellent Princeton University Press field guide series, the book describes and illustrates 1,817 speices of birds to be found in Peru. It's concise (at 664 pages!), well-designed, and worth a look (just take it off the store shelf and page through it) because it demonstrates the extraordinary variety of the bird world. It won the 2008 National Outdoor Book Award, nature and environment category. Soft cover, $39.50.