Here is a bird identification book that is pretty much useless.


It’s well done, informative, with amazing illustrations (considering).


It’s a “Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and Other Winged Dinosaurs.”


Who would’ve thought!


Author and artist Matthew P. Martyniuk writes in the book’s beginning:


“While Mesozoic birds and other ancient dinosaurs are extinct, it is possible to illustrate them within a reasonable margin of error by combining fossil evidence with principles gleaned from observing modern species and good modern analogues.”


In many cases his renditions of particular avian species closely resemble some of today’s songbird species, raptors, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Avians, the author explains, are “modern” birds. They represent “descendants of the most recent common ancestor of all birds alive today.”


Scant fossil evidence tends to be the rule. Creatures as fragile as birds do not make good fossils.


Martyniuk writes that it is likely that members of several modern bird orders existed before what is known as the K-Pg boundary. That is the arrival 66 million years ago of the massive astroid that landed in today’s Mexico, changing air quality and weather that brought extinction to three-quarters of all plant and animal life on earth.


Many birds and other small creatures survived. With less competition for resources and fewer predators, they evolved into today’s animal species.


Some of today’s birds, as seen in Martyniuk’s artistic interpretations, have changed little in 66 million years. On a field trip at the end of the Cretaceous period, which came at the end of the Mesozoic era, you could almost get along with your current edition of Sibley. 


In addition to the illustrations, Martyniuk writes about the evolution of feathers and birds. He also provides extensive explanations of the biology of these creatures, and what fossil evidence he used to make his artistic decisions.


The book was published in 2012 by Pan Aves of Vernon, N.J. It is available from the Hennepin County library.