Water, Prey, and Game Birds

Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior

by Paul A. Johnsgard
Cornell, 378 pp., $10.00

Water, Prey, and Game Birds of North America

by Alexander Wetmore. and others
National Geographic Society, 464 pp., $11.95

Birds of Prey

by Philip Brown
Transatlantic Arts, 124 pp., $5.95

The Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior is a book which should have been reviewed in my country by Professor Niko Tinbergen of Oxford University. It is just up his street. But since it has fallen to the writer of this review to do so, he would preface his remarks by one made by Colonel Meinertzhagen in the Introduction to his Birds of Arabia: “In case a reviewer troubles to read this introduction, let him first ask himself the question: Do I know more about this subject than the author? To be critical is easy; to be correct, not quite so easy.” There are few men with sufficient knowledge of live waterfowl combined with taxonomic and biological experience to review Professor Johnsgard’s book as it undoubtedly merits, and the present reviewer is not one of them! He can therefore only call attention to what strikes him as being an outstanding contribution to the study of animal behavior.

One of the chief aims which Professor Johnsgard set himself was to test the value and limitations of behavior—particularly sexual behavior—as an aid to classification. For this purpose he has “wandered about the Americas, Europe, and Australia” studying wildfowl in their native haunts and paying a visit of no less than twenty months to the Wildfowl Trust in Gloucestershire, England, where Peter Scott has the largest collection of living waterfowl in the world. Thus he was able to study at close quarters and to film an enormous number to which such access would have been impossible in the wild. From the 7,000 feet of film exposed there and elsewhere the drawings which embellish the text of this book were made, illustrating the courtship and threat displays and the many other postures employed by the duck tribe in their sexual behavior. As the author tells us, many species were studied in the wild as well as in captivity but in no case was it noted that the sexual behavior of wild and captive waterfowl differs significantly.

Professor Johnsgard then discusses in turn the general and the sexual behavior of the individual species in the three sub-families into which the Anatidae are divided (pp. 14-337), followed by a short summary of his conclusions. This section, in which he compares the behavior of the various “tribes”—a word coined by Jean Delacour, if memory serves—with one another, always with emphasis on their sexual behavior, is the most interesting in the book. In the Stiff-Tailed Ducks, for instance, at least two of the members have a major courtship display which consists of the male repeatedly drumming his bill on an inflated tracheal air sac!

The book ends with a classification table of the Anatidae based very largely on that proposed by Delacour and Mayr (1945) with subsequent revision by the first-named, but revised by Professor Johnsgard himself in the light of his own researches. In the course of his work he gives repeated acknowledgment to such well-known students of behavior as Heinroth, Lorenz, and …

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