RSPB Handbook of British Birds Paperback – 16 Aug 2010
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"Marvellous value for a tenner." --Birds (Feb 2007)
From the Author
"Why another bird book?", this will be a question that we are sure that many people will ask - and it is a fair question!
Many older birdwatchers will remember that Roger Tory Peterson introduced the first of field guides to birds into Britain in the 1950s. This was a significant milestone in the popularising of birdwatching as a hobby in Britain and eventually in many other countries as well.
Excellent as that first guide was it soon had its imitators. Soon the growing number of birdwatchers, who had more opportunities to travel, required even more guides covering wider geographical areas. The emphasis of most of these books remained identification and this is the emphasis continues today.
Identification of birds is difficult and the skills and practice involved should not be under estimated. Identification, however, should not in our opinion be an end in itself more of a beginning.
For us, the authors, the enjoyment of watching birds comes from encountering the bird in the field and knowing something of if life-style; of where it comes from and where it travels to; its relative scarcity or abundance, and where else in the world it is found. Many of our most memorable experiences relate to migrant birds; whether it is Little Auks, flying low over the waves as they battle against a head wind on their journey from their Spitzbergan breeding grounds to their winter quarters somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean. Alternatively it could be the welcome return of the mysterious Cuckoo in spring: where has it been and which birds is it singling out to be the hosts for is abandoned eggs this year.
There are other intriguing stories to be found in the breeding behaviour of many familiar birds. The aunties that look after the crèche of downy Shelducks while the parents leave the area to moult. The male Dotterel that swaps roles with the female and cares for the eggs and young while his erstwhile mate leaves in search or another male, and the Dunnock that varies its song to make competitors think that there is more than one male occupying the territory.
And then there is moult, a vital period in the annual cycle of any bird and an event that can change both its appearance and its behaviour. No popular book has attempted to tackle this difficult subject.
There is also the all the mind-blowing information on how long birds live, which is tucked away in scientific journals and deserves wider readership, but perhaps the biggest omission from the other current bird books is the populations and the most recent trends. This is the vital information that conservationists need and on which conservation programmes are based.
We have drawn widely on the work of ornithologists and scientists, past and present. We have incorporated the latest statistics from the British Trust for Ornithology and the conservation measures being taken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We have used our own intimate knowledge of the species to decide what information include and - far more difficult - what to leave out! We hope the result is a readable and informative biography of each of the 280 species we have selected.
We are confident that this book is substantially different from other field guides on the market. Its primary purpose is not use in the field, but it is for reference at home, to be taken in the car, packed in the holiday suitcase or used - without embarrassment - in a hide on an RSPB reserve. Look at the bird, read the text and gradually - we hope - the wonderful word of birds will start to come alive for you just as it has for us.
Peter Holden and Tim Cleeves
2002 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
So far as I have been able to determine (and I'm just an enthusiast not an expert) this is an acceptable update. It covers all the identification factors I would look for - appearance in flight, at different times of year, at different stages of development, description of calls, distribution areas, etc.
There is a section on bird topography (how to describe the 'parts' of a bird's physique and plumage) and also a section that links local, common, scientific and international names, so if you need a description of a Brook Ousel (Water Rail) or a Yarwelp (Avocet), they are there to be found.
The immediate difference is the colour photos rather than drawings of each species. Also it limits itself to 280 species that regularly occur in Britain and Ireland as residents or visitors so if you were lucky enough to spot an 'accidental' from Europe, you might not establish an identity. Then again, if you are good enough to know it is an accidental, you will have other guides available!
There isn't a species comparison page (for the various birds of prey for example) and I miss that - you would have to look at the entry for each possibility whereas my well-loved old guides had a comparison page that showed the outline given by all comparable species for quick identification, then turn to the detailed entry for more information.
Ultimately, my daughter chose the pocket edition, specifically because of its size, but I liked this enough to keep it for the car.
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