A beautiful volume of unfeathered Lazarus birds

9/17/2013 | 0

On this spread from the book The Unfeathered Bird, drawings by Katrina van Grouw show the European Nightjar's comb-like middle claw and the bird in flight.

On this spread from the book The Unfeathered Bird, drawings by Katrina van Grouw show the European Nightjar’s comb-like middle claw and the bird in flight.

In a recent issue, we described 19 new books about birds that belong in your library. This one is like no other we’ve seen before.

Artist Katrina van Grouw has made a career at the intersection of science and art. Besides being the author of Birds, an oversize volume of bird art published by Quercus Books in 2007, she has worked as a bander, a taxidermist, and a curator of the ornithological collections at London’s Natural History Museum. So it’s no surprise that her latest book, containing 385 anatomical drawings of birds big and small, all made from specimens, bridges both worlds.

UnfeatheredWhat surprises is how much the book contributes to the long-standing, and tiresome, photography-versus-illustration debate. Sure, van Grouw could have posed her skulls, bills, feet, skeletons, and partially or completely unfeathered torsos on colored backdrops, lit them like supermodels, and snapped their pictures. Instead, she appraised her subjects through trained, perceptive eyes, subjected them to the workings of a selective, imaginative brain, and then let her interpretations flow out through her pencil.

The results are minor miracles: A Great Spotted Woodpecker, skinless and featherless except for its long tail, braces against a tree trunk. A European Robin, with worm but sans skin, crouches on the handle of a spade. A skeletal European Nightjar hawks insects in mid-air (above). Each is an avian Lazarus, returned to life after consignment to the specimen drawer.

The Unfeathered Bird, by Katrina van Grouw, Princeton University Press, 2013, 304 pages, $49.95 cloth, no ebook

Look for roundups of notable new books about birds in every June and every December issue of BirdWatching magazine.

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Updated on Nov. 6, 2013, to show Madavor Media’s new mailing address.