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New bird book: The World's Rarest Birds

"The World's Rarest Birds" includes a new photograph of the White-bellied Cinclodes taken by Dubi Shapiro, the only known photo of this bird
"The World's Rarest Birds" includes a new photograph of the White-bellied Cinclodes taken by Dubi Shapiro, the only known photo of this bird
Dubi Shapiro, courtesy of Princeton Universtiy Press

The World's Rarest Birds


Some of the main reasons why bird watching interests me and, I suspect, a great many birding enthusiasts, are the tremendous variety of bird species, the incredible artistry of their forms and colors, and the chance to see creatures that may have spent part of the year thousands of even tens of thousands of miles away from the area in which I live. "The World's Rarest Birds," a new Princeton Press release by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still, satisfies all of those desires without leaving the comfort of one's own parlor.

The first 50 or so pages of the 360 page book are dedicated to explaining the various levels of endangerment into which species are categorized, as well as a thorough and detailed discussion of the factors that lead to population declines and the possibility of extinction for birds. This makes fascinating reading and makes one wonder at the fact that only 130 species of birds are known to have become fully extinct since the year 1500. Of course, that number does not include a great many other species categorized as Possibly Extinct which have not been seen or recorded for decades or, in some cases, more than a century. The Jamaican Petrel, for example, is still listed as Possibly Extinct even though not a single specimen has been seen since 1879.

The largest part of "The World's Rarest Birds" is, as one might expect, devoted to the birds themselves. It is within the various regional directories that one will find photos of such rarities as the Guadalupe storm-petrel (Oceanodroma macrodactyla) which, the authors tell us, numbers no more than 50 individuals at best, although it has not been seen at all since 1912. House cats and goats introduced to the island of Guadalupe are thought to be the primary cause of this species' disappearance.

Birds which have not been recorded or photographed in modern years were recreated visually for the book by illustrator Tomasz Cofta who used painstaking research to accurately capture each bird's original appearance. His artistry blurs the lines between photograph and illustration so well that it is difficult to tell which is which without looking at the last recorded sighting dates for the species.

"The World's Rarest Birds" offers birding enthusiasts not only a detailed compendium of rare bird species, but a chance to see these rarities, many of which we will never again have the opportunity to see in real life, no matter how far and wide we may travel.

The book, like the birds themselves, is visually stunning. Indeed, aside from the appendices, every page of "The World's Rarest Birds" contains at least one color photograph or illustration, often more than one. A combined 1080 photos and illustrations feather the 360 page body of this work.

This book is not a field guide, by any means. At 8-1/2 X 11 inches, the hard-cover is a coffee table treasure or a rainy day home birding experience. I highly recommend "The World's Rarest Birds" as a valuable addition to the libraries of conservationists and birders alike.


This review was based on a complimentary review copy provided to the author by Princeton University Press.

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