Dominic Couzens' guide to 50 of the rarest birds of the world is as stunning photographically as it is saddening psychologically. The reader is treated to page after page of marvelous images of rarely-seen ducks, condors, mockingbirds, warbler, falcons, sandpipers, doves and macaws, over 200 pix in all. The accompanying text often reveals many of those lovely creatures are threatened with extinction, never to be seen and enjoyed again. The reader cannot help but be affected by this absorbing MIT Press/BirdLife International 2010 release.
Couzins divides his topic into ten categories/chapters that emphasize different aspects of bird extinction: 'Back from the Brink,' 'Perils of Island Living,' 'Threats in Many Guises,' 'Unexpected Calamities,' 'Lost Causes,' 'Controversies,' 'Rediscoveries' and so on. As brought out in these chapters, many factors make bird conservation difficult - sensitive habitat, size of habitat, economic conditions of the country where the species resides, the trade-off between human and bird interests, etc. Difficulties only increase with migrating birds.
Each chapter makes for enlightening reading. The first chapter,'Back from the Brink,' for example, relates the success achieved in attempts to bring a particular species back using surviving examples. Species covered include the California Condor, Kakpo, Laysan Duck, Seychelles Magpie-Robin and Crested Ibis. Each bird gets a four-page spread with several color photographs and a color map. Couzin relates that species' history, recounting causes of decline, efforts to build up the population, future prospects, etc.
The 'Threats in Many Disguises' chapter may be the most fascinating of all as it deals with some really unusual threats faced by birds such as the Tristan Albatross (giant mice), Black-eared Miner (mating with Yellow-throated Miners), Montserrat Oriole (hurricanes/volcanos), Houbara Bustard (falconer poachers) and Colourful Puffleg (loss of habitat).
The final chapter - 'The Pending Tray' - is the most poignant, covering, as it does, species that may be out there or not! Most of the illustrations in this chapter - covering Long-Whiskered Owlets, Night Parrots, Pink-headed Ducks, White-eyed River Martins and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers - are drawings or black-and-white photographs, indicating the MIA status of those birds.
In summary, ATLAS OF RARE BIRDS is a rara avis itself, equal parts inspiration and despair. It is a stunning tribute to some of God's most beautiful and fragile creatures and a definite call to action. Highly recommended.