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A new hummingbird guide and more books for birders

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Rufous Hummingbird. Photo by David Mundy
Rufous Hummingbird is one of the species featured in the new guide The Hummingbird Handbook by John Shewey. Photo by David Mundy

We reviewed a new hummingbird guide, titles about Florida Scrub-Jay and Osprey, and more books in the May/June 2021 edition of “Bookshelf.”

The Hummingbird HandbookThe Hummingbird Handbook, by John Shewey, Timber Press, 2021, paperback, 240 pages, $24.95.

Is any other family of birds represented in the bookstores of North America more than the hummingbirds? Doubtful, and for great reasons, of course. This latest addition to the Trochilidae canon is by John Shewey, a writer and outdoor photographer who has written for BirdWatching and other publications. He is also the co-author of the field guide Birds of the Pacific Northwest.

The Hummingbird Handbook is divided into six parts: Hummingbird Trivia: Facts, Fictions & Folklore; Hummingbird Basics; Planting and Landscaping for Hummingbirds; Hummingbirds of the United States; Hummingbirds on the Road; and Hummingbirds Abroad: A Gallery of Species. The planting and landscaping section alone is worth the cover price. Shewey tells how he transformed his backyard into a hummingbird hangout, and then he describes the benefits of 21 types of flowers that you can plant. Stunning photography illustrates the text in the plants section and throughout the book. 

Shewey divides the hummingbirds of the U.S. into two groups: eight species with large ranges north of Mexico and seven species with U.S. ranges limited to southeastern Arizona and other areas of the Southwest and the South. Each species account presents photos, ID tips, and notes on status, range, habitat, voice, behaviors, and similar species, as well as a range map. He then presents a state-by-state list of places to go to see hummingbirds, with an Internet address for each location. 

The book concludes with 20 pages of amazing photos of hummingbird species from Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. Their names alone would make anyone want to see them: Amethyst Woodstar, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, Purple- crowned Plovercrest. Yes, more please.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Florida Scrub-Jay: Field Notes on a Vanishing BirdFlorida Scrub-Jay: Field Notes on a Vanishing Bird, by Mark Jerome Walters, University Press of Florida, 2021, hardcover, 176 pages, $24.95.

I would recommend this book on the strength of the prologue alone. In just seven brilliant pages, author Mark Jerome Walters covers the evolutionary history of birds from dinosaurs to the present, focusing on the line that led to corvids, then to jays, then to the titular species, Florida Scrub-Jay. Explaining how the bird became separated over time from other scrub-jays, Walters notes that “it’s a double miracle that the bird survives at all.”

Now, of course, Florida Scrub-Jay has to contend with modern humans and the development and citrus groves that we brought to its peninsular home. Walters, who traveled Florida to report on the natural history and current predicament of the bird, describes the massive land-reclamation and canal-building projects of the 20th century that ate away at the ancient oak scrub heartlands where the bird was abundant, reducing its population by 90 percent.

Walters also investigates conservation efforts taking place today. On a series of field excursions, he introduces the people who are leading the charge to save the bird from extinction — those who gather for annual counts of the species in fragmented and overlooked areas of scrub; those who relocate populations of scrub-jays out of harm’s way; those who survey and purchase land to create wildlife refuges; and those who advocate for the prescribed fires that keep scrub ecosystems inhabitable for the species.

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A loving portrayal of a very special bird, Florida Scrub-Jay is also a thoughtful reflection on the ethical and emotional weight of protecting a species in an age of catastrophe. Now is the time to act, says Walters, or we will lose the scrub-jay forever. Start with this book.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

National Audubon Society Birds of North AmericaNational Audubon Society Birds of North America, Knopf, 2021, flexibound, 912 pages, $49.95.

This new guide to more than 800 bird species is thicker and heavier than just about every other North American guide I know of, so it won’t fit in your jacket pocket. But it should find a place on your shelf for the thorough coverage it provides each bird. Species are depicted one per page, with three to six photos, plus notes about field marks, voice, habitat, range, and similar species. And unlike any other field guide, it features the conservation status of each species, as designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

National Audubon Society Trees of North AmericaNational Audubon Society Trees of North America, Knopf, 2021, flexibound, 592 pages, $39.95.

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In conjunction with its new bird guide, Audubon is bringing out this stunning new guide to North American trees. The format is similar to the bird guide: one species per page, each illustrated with multiple photos. Range maps show where the trees are found, and the text explains what they look like, if they produce fruit and flowers, and their conservation status. The book sorts trees by taxonomic orders and groups them by family, so that related species are presented together. And introductory essays explain tree biology and identification.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Ospreys: The Revival of a Global RaptorOspreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor, by Alan F. Poole, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019, hardcover, 220 pages, $39.95.

To learn more about this issue’s cover bird, you cannot go wrong with ornithologist Alan Poole’s beautifully illustrated book exploring this widespread species. Poole is one of the world’s leading experts on the Osprey, having studied the species in Florida, New England, and elsewhere. The easy-to-read book takes readers around the globe — to Japan, Australia, the Caribbean, and many other places where the bird lives. And it introduces us to several heroes who helped Ospreys recover.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Studies of Familiar BirdsStudies of Familiar Birds, by Carrie Green, Able Muse Press, 2020, paperback, 92 pages, $19.95.

This book of poems was inspired by a book we reviewed in 2012, America’s Other Audubon, which memorialized an 1886 book about American bird eggs and nests. Poet Carrie Green pays homage to the 19th-century nest illustrators Gennie and Virginia Jones. And like a nest woven of branches, grasses, and leaves, Green weaves odes to birds with poems memorializing her late father. As a reader and as someone who has lost both of my parents, I identify with Green’s expressions of sorrow and grief.

Learn more at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

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