Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
by Fogden, Michael; Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
2014, 400pp, ISBN: 9780062280640
Basics: hardcover; attractive photo collection for 262 (78%) of the world's 338 species of hummingbirds with brief summaries for the other 76 not shown; of the 262 species shown most (75%) are by only the male and 12% by only the female; text for each bird covers a general description with notes about favorite flowers, the nest and eggs, and about the bird's status and conservation concerns; not a field or identification guide but a small-sized artwork

REVIEW: The focal point of this attractive book (8 x 6 x 1.3 inches) is the set of life-sized photographs for this diverse family of birds. However, it must be noted only 262 (78%) of the 338 known species of hummingbirds are shown. This conflicts a bit with the book's sub-title stating "Every Species". The other 76 (22%) of the species are mentioned at the back of the book with the same material and range maps given for the illustrated birds. These non-illustrated hummingbirds are typically the rarer or lesser known species, even including the extinct Brace's Hummingbird. However, some of these missing birds have been well photographed such as the Plain-capped Starthroat and Green Mango.

The photographs do a nice job of showing the birds in a variety of positions: Flying, feeding, perching, or nesting. The color and clarity of the photos makes the book enjoyable to examine. However, some of the photographs tend to show a slightly muted or washed coloration to the birds. The color reproductions may not be perfect but, they do represent the bird well enough. A slightly different tact was taken with the photographs. Each bird has been digitally cut out of its background and placed onto a white page. I suspect this was done to help fit the bird, the map, and all the text onto the same page for easier reading; and, perhaps for a slightly different aesthetic approach.
These photographs, while showing the birds nicely, do not lend themselves to be fully useful for field use or identification. This is because most (75%) of the species are only of the male; and, 12% show only the female such as the Lucifer Hummingbird and Bahama Woodstar. A total of 33 (13%) of the photographed species show both male and female. As an odd note, the Green-bellied Hummingbird is represented by only a juvenile. Yes, these photos can be helpful to get a good impression of the what the bird looks like but only from the one angle shown in the photograph. An additional 26 photographs (with background included) are shown in the introductory pages.
It should be kept in mind this book is not designed to be a field or identification guide. Instead, it is a nice reference, or even artwork, to visually examine most of the world's hummingbirds and, to read about their natural history.

The material provided for each of the 338 species is contained within a single paragraph. A couple of sentences provide a general description of the bird and, sometimes, a few words on differentiating that bird from a similar species. A few more sentences comment on the various subspecies and their physical differences. The remainder of the bird's account gives the reader an overview of its life history such as distribution, favorite flowers, description of nests, and brief notes on status or conservation concerns.

The beginning of the book offers an informative 19-page introduction. A few pages cover each of these topics: Evolution and taxonomy, color and iridescence, flight, feeding, courtship and nesting, molt, and, migration.

Lastly, each of the 338 species is accompanied by a range map supplied by BirdLife International. The range is denoted by using three colors: Red for resident, year-round birds; green for breeding, summer ranges; and, blue for where the species is found during the winter. The maps are useful for assessing the general range of the bird; however, their small size (3x2 cm) in combination with showing a large geographic area make many of the range maps difficult to examine. The Magenta-throated Woodstar's limited range in the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama is barely visible in a small map that shows a large area from Massachusetts all the way south to Bolivia. The faintest sliver of red ink makes the range map incorrectly appear to show the bird as being found along the Pacific coast.

If you have an appreciation of hummingbirds, you will want a copy of this book. It is nice to see life-sized photos of the birds and to have so many species together in one relatively compact book. Just keep in mind this book is a general summary or overview of the birds; that not all birds are shown; and, the book is more of a beginning resource to help learn what hummingbirds exist and not as a field or identification guide.-- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, April 2014)

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