Special features

Scott Weidensaul’s guide to owls offers the latest information about 39 species

We publish roundups of new books about birds two times a year, in our June and December issues. For our December 2015 issue, we wrote about 18 titles, including the book featured here. Scroll down for links to our other reviews from the issue.
By Chuck Hagner | Published: 10/19/2015

Weidensaul_Owls_300x431Scott Weidensaul is a talented author who writes about subjects we find fascinating — the history of American birding, a trip across the continent in the footsteps of James Fisher and Roger Tory Peterson, a worldwide search for vanishing species, the sweeping story of bird migration.

He is also a licensed hummingbird bander with a keen interest in western species that stray east each winter and a co-founder of Project SNOWstorm, the ambitious ongoing study of Snowy Owl, another charismatic species with a tendency to wander.

View 10 photos of enigmatic, irruptive Snowy Owls.

In this book, a welcome addition to the growing Peterson Reference Guide series, he blends his considerable storytelling abilities and wide-ranging research interests to describe what we know, what we’ve just learned, and what we don’t know yet about owls found north of Guatemala.

Up-to-date maps and detailed, readable information about systematics and taxonomy, distribution, identification, calls, habitat, nesting, behavior, and status are provided for Snowy Owl and 38 other species, including five endemic Caribbean species (Ashy-faced Owl of Hispaniola, Bare-legged Owl and Cuban Pygmy-Owl of Cuba, Puerto Rican Screech-Owl, and Jamaican Owl), and interested readers can download a free album containing recordings from Cornell’s Macaulay Library of every owl’s vocalizations.

The 19 species commonly depicted in popular North American field guides are well covered, and many of the accounts dispel misconceptions. Indeed, in our last issue we published an excerpt that explained why Snowy Owl deserves to be called the most recognizable and the most thoroughly misunderstood owl in the world.

We especially enjoyed Weidensaul’s descriptions of the region’s least-known species — Crested Owl, “unforgettable when seen but still largely an enigma to science”; Black-and-white Owl, whose nesting habits are known from just four attempts by two pairs; dark, wraithlike Stygian Owl, whose presence is “often more a case of rumor and conjecture than hard fact”; and Fulvous Owl, “essentially a flying question mark.” These passages can’t help but fire the imagination of armchair as well as traveling birders.

Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean, by Scott Weidensaul, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pages, hardcover, $40.

Project SNOWstorm researchers tag 14th Snowy Owl.

Review of Peterson Reference Guide to Birding by Impression.

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