Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: Birds of Europe

I am honored that the good folks at Princeton University Press would send me a review copy of the new second edition Birds of Europe.  Now why would a country-boy in Idaho be interested in a field guide about birds in Europe?!  Like many Americans, I am a mutt of European ancestry.  I am 44% Danish, 31% English, and 6% Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, and German.  I hope to visit the lands of my ancestors some day for family history purposes, but also for some great birding!  Browsing through this field guide made me kind of sentimental thinking about the birds my forefathers must have seen in their day.

Looking at each page of this Birds of Europe field guide was a blast.  It was so fun to see some familiar birds from North America, but often with different names than I know.  I had to look at the Latin scientific names to see if they are the same species.  For example, the Firecrests of Europe look a lot like the Golden-crowned Kinglets of North America.  While these cousins belong to Regulus they are indeed separate species.  It was fun to dream about seeing the many varieties of species unique to the old world.

Now, let's get down to the review of this book as a field guide and a European reference:

The cover is glossy cardstock with nice plumage marking charts on both inside covers.  The cover, not being vinyl, was not made for real rugged outdoor use.  The book is sized appropriately for a vest or small pack for outdoor use, but a tad on the heavy side due to all the content.  There is no quick-reference-guide made out of different paper for easy reference, but the table of contents and index, along with headers at the top of each page work sufficiently well for looking up species.  

My favorite features of this field guide - that I have never seen or noticed before in other field guides - are the at-a-distance views of each species portrayed in their typical habitat and posture.  The artistic renderings and marking pointers with concise text are Sibley-esque which I really like in a field guide.  There are maps for most species, and those without are usually vagrants anyway.  The maps cover all of Europe and the Mediterranean, including northern Africa.  I wish the maps showed the borders of each country, but I suppose Europe is all about the European Union without borders, right?!

The write-up of each species if really quite fun to read.  Apart from all the new English adjectives that I have to look up in the dictionary, Svensson's personality shines through as he shares interesting tidbits about the birds, like this gem:

(Bohemian) Waxwing - "In winter can eat frostbitten and semi-fermented berries, which may intoxicate the bird and render it temporarily incapable of flight.  Has apparently developed a highly efficient liver (better than humans) to cope with this, since it usually recovers quickly."

Svensson also goes into much more detail about variations in male, female, and juvenile plumages than I am accustomed to in North American field guides.  It was also interesting to note the abundant use of the male 
and female
♀ symbols (which I had to look up online to even see how to add such symbols using the keyboard).

Asian, African, and North American vagrants are covered very well in this field guide, always a plus!  All though I'm not a European birder, this field guide seems to be very comprehensive

Because this Birds of Europe field guide uses different language to describe plumage and bird vocalizations it will be a valuable tool for North American birders to use as a reference when studying species that we share with Europe.  It presents a new perspective that will enhance our understanding.

Birds of Europe, Second Edition - text and maps by Lars Svensson, Illustrations and captions by Killiam Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom and published by Princeton University Press can be purchased online for as low as $17.77 while its list price is $29.95.

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