Book Review - The World's Rarest Birds

The World's Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still (ISBN 9780691155968) Princeton University Press, 2013

Marvellous Spatuletail (From p 264-5 of The World's Rarest Birds) 

When I first got my review copy of this book, and started my customary "page through" to get a first impression, I was arrested by the jaw-dropping photo shown above of the appropriately named Marvellous Spatuletail. I looked up the bird in the index and found the species page with all of the pertinent data. It is endemic to Peru, and has a population of 250-999, but the good news is that "a protected area for this species was established in Amazonas in 2006." Great! I don't know if I'll ever be fortunate enough to see this bird, but I am definitely glad to know some protection has been afforded this magnificent creature.

Example of the Species Descriptions (p147)

So that experience comprises an important aspect of this book; beautiful bird photos (or drawings in some cases) coupled with concise and pertinent conservation related information for that species. There are also QR codes for each species which link to the BirdLife International species page for those desiring more information. But there is more...

In addition to the species related information, there are sections entitled "Conservation Challenges" and "Threatened Bird Hotspots".

There are five Conservation Challenge sections highlighting difficult problems to be creatively addressed. Shown below is an image of one of these conservation challenges that I was not even aware of, as it occurs on the other side of the planet - the threats to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This flyway is used by 50 million migratory waterbirds while simultaneously supporting one third of the world's human population in countries that extend from subarctic Russia through Asia all the way to Australia and New Zealand. Of course, this is the source of the conservation challenge. The book points out that the rate of species decline - up to 8-9% per year - are among the highest of any ecological system on Earth. It is good to publicize this situation in an effort to achieve a workable solution.

Conservation Challenge - The world's most threatened flyway (p 116-7)
There are twenty Threatened Bird Hotspot sections that detail issues in important bird areas around the globe. The pages shown below are from the Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) in Brazil - "one of the world's most vulnerable forests." This section follows the pattern of the Species and Conservation Challenge subdivisions in that it contains bird photos, maps and text that concisely discuss the issues.

The Atlantic Forest - Threatened Bird Hotspot (p 276-7)

The book also has an important page at the beginning that describes the 'World's Rarest' initiative. It discusses the Rare Books Yearbooks that were essentially the forerunners of The World's Rarest Birds book. It talks about BirdLife International, the global partnership of conservation organizations that acts as a watchdog over bird species. It concludes with the following paragraph:

"New information about the species covered in this book is coming to light every day. For this reason, readers are encouraged to visit the BirdLife website - - for the latest information and to subscribe to their newsletters"

In a sense this paragraph turns the book into a "living document' with it's connection to the Internet. Very good...

I feel I would be remiss in my review if I did not point out the text (along with a photo of a Araripe Manakin) that in a way comprises the very essence of the book:

"Let the birds speak for themselves"

And that they do in this laudable effort in the field of bird conservation.

Filled with beautiful pictures and drawings, and a wealth of information on endangered bird species, this book is an absolute must-have for anyone interested in bird conservation, and a delight for people everywhere who love birds and enjoy learning about them. Be prepared to be enlightened about birds and bird conservation issues. If it motivates you to action - more power to you!


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