Sunday, January 16, 2022

How Birds Evolve - Book Review

Here’s a book released in the US in October 2021 and now at large in the UK from 4 January. I suspect it’s late for publication caused by disruptions to business operations and normal life of recent months. Only last week did Princeton send a copy for review via Another Bird Blog and I do not understand why it only now appears in the UK, some 4 months later than the North American release.   

Let me say right from the outset that How Birds Evolve is an outstanding book, one that had I seen a week or two before would have elicited a “buy” recommendation as a Christmas gift for the birder in your life. Read on to discover why this is a book every birder should read and own. 

“How Birds Evolve - What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives, and Diversity” is the title of the 320 page volume by Douglas Futuyma. The author is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. His books include Evolution and Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. These are immaculate credentials from someone who describes himself as an “enthusiastic birder” and whose observations, experiences and ornithological studies in over 50 countries can be found throughout the book. 

A simple explanation to the science of birds’ origins is that birds grew from a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods about 150 million years. Here were animals that survived in many different habitats, beings that evolved into the present day 11,000 bird species across the world. With such a close relationship to the extinct dinosaurs, how and why did birds survive? The answer is a combination of things: their small size, the fact they can eat a lot of different foods and have an ability to fly. These ancient birds looked quite a lot like small, feathered dinosaurs and they had much in common - their mouths still contained sharp teeth that over time evolved into beaks. After more than 140 million years in charge, the dinosaurs' reign came to an abrupt end when a huge asteroid strike and massive volcanic eruptions caused disastrous changes to the environment. Most dinosaurs went extinct while birds with winged feathers and the ability to fly remained until today, more than a little changed, but birds now near an extinction of their own. 

Each of the chapters of How Birds Evolve has a sub title that more fully suggests to the reader the overall flavour, focus and the detailed content within. This sub-titling is useful to someone like me who on first acquaintance with a book likes to browse the parts, maybe even begin to read a book in the “wrong” order so as to match with a special interest while beginning to familiarise with an author’s style. 

With twelve Chapters and over 300 pages, How Birds Evolve has so many highlights, so many fascinating, illuminating and enlightening segments that it’s almost impossible and perhaps unfair to pick my own particular favourite when other readers would choose differently. But, here goes. 

The first chapters, 1) In the Light of Evolution: Birds and 2) Evolutionary Science and Parrots, Falcons, and Songbirds: The Bird Tree of Life are unavoidably technical in their use of scientific descriptions and terminology for which the author both explains and apologises in advance. There sections include partly challenging diagrams, illustrations or charts where prior experience, knowledge and/or reading are desirable but certainly not mandatory e.g. terms like DNA, Messenger RNA, phylogeny, genomes. 

North American Warblers - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

A determined and persevering read of the text while studying the diagrams/charts will ultimately reward the reader by enabling a thorough enjoyment and understanding of later chapters and the whole book. Every one of the 12 Chapters is jam-packed with insightful narrative into the lives of birds together with accounts of how, where, when and why the rich diversity of birds is an important aspect of evolutionary biology. 

The three chapters ‘Highlights of Bird History’, ‘Finches and Blackcaps’ and ‘The Ruff and The Cuckoo’ I found especially entertaining and instructive because a number of the pages focused on familiar and recent topics. 

The author described how in real time of 2017 Galapagos scientists observed the development of a new lineage of Darwin's finches, and showed how under the right conditions, evolution can occur over as little as two generations. 

Futuyma relates how ornithologists at the University of Freiburg studying Blackcaps in two areas of Germany, 500 miles apart found that birds which spent winter in Spain had more in common genetically with their Spanish sun-loving counterparts than they did with their UK-wintering neighbours who bred in the same area. This led to the real possibility that the Spanish and UK-wintering groups of Blackcaps could be on their way to becoming two different species. 

The author introduced me to the theory of ‘cultural evolution’, a change us oldies witnessed in the UK during the years of foil topped milk bottles standing on our wintery doorsteps. We also discover that passerines learn many aspects of their songs from parents or neighbours whereby regional populations often diverge to form local dialects, something I have observed in the case of Yellowhammer, Chaffinch and Linnet. 

Remaining chapters continue in the same vein, pages crammed with good reading and packed with knowledge about the causes of variation within bird populations and several species that each tells a special, unexpected and therefore fascinating story. UK readers will enjoy the sections that feature Ruff, Collared & Pied Flycatcher and Snow Goose. There’s absorbing discussion about polymorphism in respect of a number of types of birds such as skuas, hawks and owls; for instance, 69 of the world’s 206 owls are classified as polymorphic for colour, usually grey or rufous, differences that arose out of the variation of evolution. 

The ancient Hoatzins of South America are avian cows. They eat leaves. They harbour bacteria in their crop that break down plant cellulose into sugars that the bird can use, just as cows and other ruminants do - convergent evolution at the biochemical level. Hoatzins climb trees with the help of claws on the point of their wings, a stage in the evolution of feathers. I decided that Chapter 6 How Adaptations Evolve which contains chart illustrations of bills, feathers, and ‘adaptations for climbing trees’ is a masterpiece of its own in what became a simply brilliant, entertaining and instructive chapter. 

Hoatzin and Bar-headed Goose - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

But there’s more, from tales and experiences and journeys around the globe where the author takes us from east to west to learn the genetic differences of Rock Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, or to the Crossbills of North America and ‘ecological speciation’. 

Red-legged Partridge & Rock Partridge - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

As every birder knows, Crossbills’ bills are highly specialised for extracting seeds from conifer cones. In North America Crossbills with differing call types specialise on different conifers and have bill differences adapted for the particular cones.  The Crossbills' calls create flock cohesion whereby birds with the same calls forage together and choose mates from within the flock. Ornithologists studying the Crossbills believe that changes taking place plus interplay with squirrels mean that ecological speciation is taking place and that there are now six species of North American Crossbills, the latest one Cassia Crossbill.  

Like all science, the science of evolution is never settled but taking place as we speak. “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on Evidence.” 

Such a book would not be complete without the author reminding readers of the perils facing birds in Chapter 12 Evolution and Extinction. Since 1970 bird populations in North America have declined by 29%, a loss of 3 billion birds. At least 40% of the world’s species of birds are in decline with 1 in every 8 species threatened by complete extinction. Birds alone are not in peril. In the 541 million years since animals first diversified, there have been five mass extinctions. Many biologists are convinced we are near a sixth mass extinction uniquely caused by the actions of a single species, man. 

If there’s a reproach to be made of the modern day birding it is that birders focus overmuch on the rarity aspect without displaying that element of curiosity, the “what, why and when” of birds. It is a fact of the current birding scene that many do not trouble themselves too much about birds’ life histories, their day to day existence, or how birds came to be. 

How Birds Evolve is a moderately technical book to test the desire to learn more, to fill that gap, a book that with just a little perseverance will encourage even the most unimaginative twitcher to cast their bins beyond immediate vistas and inspire them to evolve into a more rounded birder. 

How Birds Evolve is accessible, exhilarating science for everyone – amateur birder, professional naturalist or just the average man. It’s a great book and one to read over and over and I thoroughly recommend it to all.

This is already my Bird Book of 2022 and I can't see it being bettered. 

Price: $29.95/£25.00 
Published (US):Oct 19, 2021 
Published (UK):Jan 4, 2022 
Size:6.12 x 9.25 in. 
Illustrations: 48 colour + 67 b/w illus. 4 tables. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for news, reviews, birding, bird ringing, bird photos and much more.

Linking today with Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Brambling Prize

In most UK winters the Brambling is a difficult one to find but a bird to prize. These cousins of the ubiquitous Chaffinch live north and east of here on the borders of Finland & Russia, venturing this far west in irregular numbers and unpredictable years. 

At the feeding station I‘ve listened for the nasal wheeze, watched the feeders and the ground beneath for weeks while studying the hedgerow for a flash of white rump amongst the Chaffinches. And then on Wednesday, joy of joys, at last a Brambling, crouching amongst half a dozen Chaffinches, an orange neighbour, reward for the seed drops and the interminable car washing after the tortuous muddy farm track. 

The finches scattered for no reason when I saw that the Brambling, now in a nearby tree, was male, perhaps even an adult but not for definite until and if we catch the star. 

Not that there’s any ringing just yet while Avian Flu is still nearby and APHA, the Animal & Plant Health Agency drag their feet on giving the all clear. Seven weeks, going on eight while waiting to hear when we can collect information for conservation. In the meantime and if at a loose end I could take up shooting birds as that’s allowed. Shooters have a route to the top, ringers do not. 

A couple of Reed Buntings, 3 Greenfinch, a couple of Blackbirds and 20 or more Linnets completed the count as I scattered more seed in the base of the hedgerow where even the Sparrowhawk’s long legs won’t reach. 

Here, and later back home, garden Greenfinches were in song, more species that so soon can see that spring is about to sprung. I saw Brown Hares on the move too, three together in the first of their Mad March ways. 



I left the Pilling farm and drove to Cockerham where at weekend Andy and I had prepared the seed plot for our now annual whoosh netting of Linnets and the sometime bonus of Skylarks and Stonechats. But never the wary Stock Doves that scatter at the sight of a vehicle. 

For the uninitiated, the idea of a whoosh net is to propel a fine net over ground feeding birds via elasticated bungees. The method is somewhat hit and miss as it requires the said birds to land in the tiny designated/prepared area and settle there long enough for the net to whoosh over them. Oh how we laughed when sitting for hours watching Linnets fly round and around without showing any interest in a mound of fresh, tasty bird seed that would mysteriously disappear before our next visit. 

Prepping the Square
The local Kestrel hovered above, and never one to miss a trick, has discovered the seed to be a regular source of animal protein. I dropped more rats and mouse seed and promised the 60+ Linnets we’d be back when APHA and BTO give us the thumbs up. 

After a number of years of sympathetic farming the most recent owner of Braides Farm has vandalised the place, torn out every perching fence and singing post, filled and levelled the vegetated ditches, built a huge midden of earth, and now imported hundreds of sheep to eat what’s left of the once green landscape. 

If there are any Skylarks this year, they’d best keep clear of grazing sheep. In the distance and mostly on an adjacent farm were up to 100 Whooper Swans and not much else. Once again, it’s “follow the money” to see that conservation and wildlife hits rock bottom in the Tory Grand Plan to level down. 

At least at Conder Green there are birds to see if a little early for the return of the bad boys the Avocets, black and white birds represented today by three Shelduck recently returned from their winter in the Wadden Sea, Dutch or German, take your pick. 

A single Little Grebe proved hard to locate, they too are heading back from whence they came for the coming spring. Wigeon were in good numbers of 60 or more, some hidden behind the islands while the tiny Teal were so numerous but scattered throughout that any count would be very inaccurate. 


Five Snipe moved around the mound of the near island and not seeming to hide as they mostly do, perhaps feeling safer on an island. Small numbers of Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew finished the wader scene. 

Time flies when having fun even if it’s the many and varied birds of spring that I’m really after so I headed home for a cup of coffee and to search my emails for one from APHA. 

No luck. Try again another day. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Monday, January 3, 2022

Happy New Year

Too much food, too much booze and too few birds - that about sums up my last fortnight. It’s not for the want of trying when a number of trips out in less than ideal weather brought scant reward.  Or, from recent Australia but in England cricket parlance, “little to report and even less to trouble the scorers”. 

In recent days Buzzard, Kestrel and Merlin provided the raptors, but a few sightings only of Barn Owl or Little Owl where mild but windy weather with zero frosts meant no requirement to feed in daylight hours. 

Little Owl


Supplementary feeding areas gave counts of up to 180 and 80 Linnets at two places respectively while Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings and titmice added to the bulk.


Redwings and Blackbirds provided the thrush interest while a single Fieldfare asked questions about where they all fled to during November.


After five weeks we expect to be notified any day now that the 10km ringing ban is lifted; then  we can return to favoured ringing sites out Pilling and Cockerham way. In a previous post I remarked that shooters are also banned from their activities in Avian Flu areas. 

After this week seeing wildfowlers in our often shared haunts and engaging in conversation, it seems that I was mistaken. The guys were quite open about their shooting, two were not even aware of our local outbreaks of Avian Flu. This when Covid alone dominates news outlets and normal conversation.  

"BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) is advising members that an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been implemented across the UK." 

“In addition to the requirements of the AIPZ, housing measures came into force on 29 November 2021. The Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have brought in housing measures across the whole of the UK to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza following a number of confirmed cases across Great Britain in recent weeks. The housing measures mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.” 

Shooting is not restricted as part of the conditions associated with this Prevention Zone. Neither is shooting directly impacted by the implementation of 3km and 10km control zones at sites where Avian Influenza is currently identified. However, BASC urges members to be vigilant and aware of the symptoms of the disease and to follow the latest biosecurity advice and measures required in the zones.” 

"Anyone attending a shoot should follow good personal biosecurity and regularly cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear and vehicles – this is particularly important if they have any contact with game birds, poultry or other captive birds. There is, however, a possibility – albeit remote - that wild birds shot or culled in pest and predator control could be infected with bird flu at any time of the year, so it clearly makes sense to avoid actions that could spread infection from killed wild birds into any kept birds, whatever their species. Do not use the same vehicles and storage facilities for shot and live birds without thorough cleansing and disinfection in between. Keep all shot or culled birds well away from any kept flocks. Likewise, wash or sanitise hands and wash clothing well after handling dead birds and before any contact with kept flocks to minimise spreading infection. Gundogs are not at any particular risk from bird flu but as a precaution do not allow dogs to eat any dead wild birds and do not feed uncooked shot or culled birds to animals." 

Just as witnessed in early 2021 UK wide lockdowns because of Covid, the rules applying to people following outdoor pursuits are different whereby shooting has a lower level of control than bird ringing, bird watching or even walking in the countryside. 

To paraphrase George Orwell, 'All countryside pursuits are equal but some countryside pursuits are more equal than others'.

Follow the money.

A Happy New Year to followers of Another Bird Blog, past, present and future.

Linking today to and


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Yay. We’ve gone beyond the shortest day with many reasons to be cheerful. From now on each and every morning and evening will see increased daylight as temperatures climb and winds subside. Birds will sing and flowers bloom. We will say goodbye to news & media doomsters and their visions of apocalypse around every corner. The viruses avian and human will fade into distant memory. My gold shares will rocket as crypto crashes, again.

Happy 2022 everyone. May all your days be bird filled.

Here’s a post I knocked up earlier while waiting for the rain to stop.

It was quite recently and not for the first time that a reader in the US thought that a UK Coal Tit was one and the same species as the North American Black-capped Chickadee. Their  respective scientific names are Periparus ater and Poecile atricapillus, two related species of the same bird family known in the US as "chickadees" and in the UK as "tits". The two species are remarkably similar but where similarities occur in other species of animal or bird, confusion is avoided by understanding and/or investigating the respective scientific or Latin names.

Black-capped Chickadee

Coal Tit

For many birdwatchers the use of scientific names is boring or inconsequential, at best a riddle and of interest only to ornithologists who speak Latin. But as well as a means of allowing people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about birds, the name give an insight into the origins of the scientific nomenclature and hence the bird itself. Here are some examples and a few pictures from Another Bird Blog archives.

There’s a question that often crops up on TV quizzes, one designed to trap the unwary. Which bird has the Latin name Puffinus puffinus? The correct but perhaps perplexing answer is of course Manx Shearwater. In days gone by the word “puffin” was a synonym for a shearwater and not the unrelated seabird Atlantic Puffin, hence it was the shearwater and not the puffin which earned the Latin title of Puffinus puffinus

The “manx” refers to the species’ former abundance on the Calf of Man a small island lying to the south of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, while "shearwater” describes the birds’ mode of flight which skims or shears the water. 

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

The scientific/Latin name for Wigeon is Anas penelope. I’m somewhat disappointed that the Anas part of the name for such a creature should simply mean duck-duck. It’s from the Latin anas and the Greek respectively, a duck that in Greek mythology was reputed to have rescued Penelope when she was thrown into the sea. 

Eurasian Wigeon - Anas penelope

Would anyone who has slept under a duck down duvet that contains feathers plucked from an Eider duck Somateria mollissima disagree with the Latin meaning “very soft woolly body”? 

Eider -  Somateria mollissima

Now for an easy one, Barn Owl. Tyto alba simply means white owl. I think we can all agree on that one for the often ghostly apparition that will sometimes allow a photograph or two.

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

One might think that the rustica element of the Latin name Hirundo rustica refers to the reddish forehead, throat or the often pink underparts of our common Swallow. In fact it means a rural or rustic swallow. The Swallow is a bird which graces our countryside for a few short months of the year. Long may it continue to do so until the politicians succeed in concreting over the entire landscape of England. 

Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica

I’ve not heard of any Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus finding their way to the UK this autumn and winter but if they are around soon I’ll be looking out for the “chattering silk-tails” that their Latin name describes. The Bohemian part of their common name tells us the species’ wandering habits were reminiscent of tribes of gypsies or Bohemians. The silk tail is self explanatory when an observer or lucky bird ringer receives close views of this beautiful species. 

Bohemian Waxwing -  Bombycilla garrulus

The Phylloscopus collybita of Chiffchaff translates as Phylloscopus a leaf-watcher, and collybita originating from a word meaning money-changer. The clicking, repetitive sound of the Chiffchaff’s song "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff" was thought to resemble the sound of coins being clinked together. 

That’s a really interesting if somewhat esoteric explanation which may or may not be the truth. Readers should think about that one in the Springtime while watching and listening to a Chiffchaff in the tree canopy.

Chiffchaff -  Phylloscopus collybita

There was a Jay Garrulus glandarius in my garden just this this week, taking a break from raiding the young oak tree in a neighbours garden. Jays are often silent but “acorn-eating chatterer” would apply on many occasions. 

Jay - Garrulus glandarius 

Please excuse my bout of name dropping today. It's not something I normally do or even like to hear from others, but hopefully there will be more posts and news soon. 

In the meantime here's wishing readers, new or old a very Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2021

A Numbers Game

November 26th was the day of the BTO notification that our bird ringing would cease with “immediate effect.” The now almost annual outbreak of bird flu in our geographical area had struck yet again in Preesall/Pilling, just a few miles from our coastal ringing sites in Pilling and Cockerham. 

Luckily we have our ringing site at Oakenclough on the edge of the Bowland Hills that is well outside the 10km control zone and so unaffected by the ban, except that until now inclement weather prevented ringing here too. 

This upland site is close to a reservoir, the water catchment placed strategically to collect the maximum amount of water from both rain and run off from surrounding land. The open situation of the site also means a fair amount of windy weather too; rain and wind, the nemeses of bird ringers everywhere. 

At last, a bout of high pressure promised a few days of settled weather and ringing, even though we knew that mid-winter catches at this site are small in numbers. I met up with Andy at 0700 in the blackness of morning, less than a week from the shortest day and the Winter Solstice of 21 December. Soon the days get steadily longer, lighter, warmer and may be even drier? 

The first net round brought a couple of always nice to see Redwing into the nets but none of the 50+ Fieldfares that stopped briefly before continuing to the east. 



Just as expected our catch was low in numbers with just eleven birds, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Redwing, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Goldcrest and 1 Wren. At least we managed a spot of ringing; and as a bonus the sun appeared. 



Coal Tit

Birding was pretty quiet with Barn Owl, a single Siskin and the aforementioned Fieldfares the highlights.  

On the way home I noted near Nateby a pair of Kestrels at roadside poles. As I carefully stopped hoping for a photo the male flew across to a tree which held a good sized crow nest; a tree worth keeping an eye on in the coming months. Kestrels begin their courtship in the cold winter months to ensure their bond is secure before the breeding season begins. Pairs usually mate for life. 

Looking forward, we are on countdown, hoping to hear soon that the ringing ban is lifted at our coastal site. But in any case I will be visiting soon to top up the supplementary food.  

Failing that we will return to Oakenclough for another dozen or so birds. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mission Possible

Avian Flu still rules in this part of Lancashire where bird ringing remains verboten until sometime never. Avian Flu also made the TV News headlines as an afterthought. Yet another panic story, as if there aren't enough to scare everyone witless and to place lives and normal freedoms on hold. 

Those temporary restrictions don’t stop a little bird watching or even topping up seed at supplementary feeding stations when suitable precautions are taken to minimise any spread of infections.

On Friday the mission was to seek, find and to count birds at both feeding stations and then to add some variety to the birds’ everyday food. A bucketful of rape seed, Niger and white millet gets them coming back for more, especially once temperatures dive and overnight frosts make natural seeds unpalatable. 

Supplementary Bird Food

The wind dropped overnight and left a touch of frost, but not enough to freeze shallow ditches and dykes. 

Pilling Lancashire
There’s a bonus to the avian flu because for now shooting in the 10km zone is also prohibited, which means that our coastal geese and wild fowl have a temporary reprieve from becoming a Christmas platter. 

A number of large skeins passed over, a constant flow of noise above, in all several hundreds, maybe 4/5000 thousand. 

Pink-footed Geese

Geese leaving their overnight roost are especially noisy, a constant conversation of shrill doggish yaps from each and every bird to their immediate neighbours in the line, perhaps a relative, a sibling or a parent. If only we could learn goose talk we might listen in to where they are heading, where are the best meals safe from disturbance, prying eyes and the threat of guns. 

And why do geese fly in V formation? Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes. First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of them, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. Birds that fly alone beat their wings more frequently and have higher heart rates than those that fly in formation. It follows that birds that fly in formation glide more often and reduce energy expenditure. 

The second benefit to V formation is that it is easy to keep track of every bird in the group. Flying in formation may assist with the communication and coordination within the group. Pilots of fighter aircraft often use this formation for the same reason. 

Our morning goose flights can last for hours for anyone minded to watch. This is a daily winter occurrence, background noise to which Joe Bloggs becomes accustomed and immune. 

I too took my eyes off the geese and looked to the job in hand while the geese continued their morning mission inland. 

At our erstwhile ringing plot I found 130+ Linnets and a couple of Chaffinches. It was just as well I concentrated on a count because on the extremes of the Linnet flock a tail-wagging Stonechat flicked into view. And along the ditch were the ubiquitous Wren, a Blackbird and the ever present Reed Bunting, a wintering species that relies on animal food during the summer months but switches to a seed diet in the winter. 

Reed Bunting
A couple of hunkered down Snipe flew from beneath my sploshing feet, the grass wetter and the water deeper than first appeared; my wellies had been a wise choice. 

The pool nearby held 20 or more Teal, an approximate count as a handful or more remained partly hidden. A single Grey Heron and a solitary Little Egret stayed in the trees as I looked from 50 yards away. 


Rain arrived from the west with immaculate timing - my appointment with BT. Another Bird Blog goes Fibre Broadband in 2022. There’s no stopping us now. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Gulls. A Review.

Along comes another field guide for review - Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: An Identification Guide from Princeton Press. This new volume devoted to gulls and gulls alone was due to go on widespread sale from 23 November in the UK and April 2022 in the US but now it is finally on my desk with a new UK publish date of 14 December, the late arrival no doubt due to the pandemic. 

The authors of “Gulls” are more than qualified to write the book. Peter Adriaens is an ecologist who has travelled widely to study and photograph gulls, including gull and tern colonies in Belgium and the Netherlands. Mars Muusse is a Dutch birder specializing in gulls and the founder of the gull identification website Gull Research Organization. Philippe J. Dubois is an ecologist, author, and editorial director of the journal Ornithos. Frédéric Jiguet is a conservation biologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and director of the Center for Research in Biology and Bird Populations. His books include Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East here,

In the last book review on Another Bird Blog I suggested we might be near the end days of bird field guides comprised of line drawn bird illustrations. “Europe’s Birds shows again how recent advances in camera optics and a photographer’s ability to fully exploit this progress have led to the demise of line drawn and painted guides, books that are not obsolete but now used by fewer birders.” 

Those few words provoked comments from a number of birders who disagreed in preferring line drawings, the Collins Guide getting several mentions. That’s fair enough but Gulls of Europe is another almost entirely photographic guide, one that on first glance may appear to the reader to be comprised of line and colour drawings. Close examination reveals that many of the 1200 colour photographs/illustrations are not line drawings but photographs that have been digitally processed to remove considerable backdrop so as to then emphasise and clarify the colours, shape and structure of the gull. 

The method must be comparatively easy with gulls in flight but less so where the original photograph contained full and/or busy backgrounds. I must say that the processing has worked extremely well whereby the images are both comprehensive and impressive e.g. White eyed Gull at Pages 88-93. And of course, because the images are taken from modern high quality photographs, they remain faithful to each individual bird and the time & date the camera clicked. 

Two full pages of photographic credits provide testament to the number of photos and photographers involved in the book. The editors also picked wisely for the book’s cover with the main picture depicting a pair of beautiful Ross’ Gulls stood on northern ice. 

In the Introduction the authors explain how the book uses ‘cycles’ to describe age classes, a term which helps to avoid problems with using calendar years or terms such as ‘first winter’, ‘second winter’ etc. It is not always realistic to divide plumages into strict and separate plumages when large gulls in particular have long and protracted moults that can last for months at a time. As the authors add, this cycle system has the added benefit of being applicable in both hemispheres where a species occurs both North and the South of the dividing line. 

Hence the individual species’ accounts at Pages 26-314 of 45 gull species employ cycle nomenclature throughout. This might prove a little worrying, even perplexing on a first encounter by an unaccustomed reader, but on later reflection makes sense by using an alternative aging method that combines with a fuller understanding of gull plumage. 

At Page 27 the authors wisely warn readers of exceptions to their cycle system in the few species accounts that differ from the norm set by the majority. The exceptions are Ivory Gull, Audouin’s Gull, White winged Gulls (Glaucous and Iceland), Pallas’s Gull, Baltic Gull and Heuglin’s Gull. 

The geographical area and the species covered in 'Gulls' encompasses Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and so include all taxa from the wider Western Palearctic list, north, south, east and west, where such species have occurred at least once. 

As one might expect each species account contains a precise summary of range together with a matching coloured map of acceptable size and clarity. The maps shown are for those taxa that breed within the Western Palearctic; the maps’ accuracy will I’m sure be subject to scrutiny, discussion and debate by gull enthusiasts with experience of more obscure species featured, e.g. Viking Gull, Steppe Gull. Or even Relict Gull, the latter a species so poorly known that there can be no map. 

At £30 UK and $40 US the Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East is more expensive than recent Princeton offers but a relatively small price to pay for birders ready to splash the cash on this latest must have book. And let’s face it many of those same birders would happily pay the same £30 and more for a tank full of juice to twitch a Steppe Gull that arrives on the coast of Aberdeenshire. 

‘Gulls’ deserves to find a place on any serious birders book shelf. For gull enthusiasts, gull gurus and those who simply can’t get enough of gulls this book will already be on order for this underrepresented branch of ornithological literature. I give top marks to Princeton for making the book available to us all.     

Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: An Identification Guide. Price: $39.95 / £30.00 at Princeton Press.

ISBN: 9780691222837 
Published (US): Apr 5, 2022 Published (UK): Dec 14, 2021 
Copyright: 2022 
Pages: 320 
Size: 6.75 x 9.25 in. 
Illus: 1,200 photos + illus. 

Postscript. For Continental readers of Another Bird Blog who might prefer, there is a French Edition - Les Laridés du Paléarctique occidental - Guide d'identification des mouettes et des goélands. 


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