• Email
  • Print

Good Neighbors

Enjoying Birds Around New York

by Robert S. Arbid Jr., by Olin Sewall Pettingill Jr., by Sally Hoyt Spofford
Cornell University, Laboratory of Ornithology, Houghton Mifflin, 171 pp., $4.50

Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification

by Chandler S. Robbins, by Bertel Bruun, by Herbert S. Zim, Illustrated in color by Arthur Singer
Golden Press, 340 pp., $2.95

The Birds of New Zealand: A Field Guide

by R.A. Falla, by R.B. Sibson, by E G. Turbott, Illustrated in color and line drawings by Chloë Talbot-Kelly
Houghton Mifflin, 254 pp., $6.95

The three little volumes which are listed above all have the same object in view: To enable a wider public to get to know the birds among which they live. Those who in their early years become bird enthusiasts will always have an interest and occupation, even if compelled by circumstance to live in a city like New York.

The first thing an intending purchaser will remark when picking up Enjoying Birds Around New York City is the excellence of its layout, the pleasing picture on the jacket, and the splendid way the pages open flat. There are a great many books on birds being turned out today on both sides of the Atlantic, reflecting an enormously increased interest in ornithology. Enjoying Birds Around New York is likely to increase that interest still more. It is beautifully printed on a coated but lightweight paper which permits the setting of the delightful vignettes in the margin of the text, and there are seventeen clearly drawn full-page maps. The work nevertheless runs to only 171 pages, and while its dimensions, approximately 9 1/4 × 6 inches, will not permit its being carried in the pocket of an ordinary suit, it is so light in weight (under fifteen ounces) that little inconvenience will be occasioned when carrying it about.

This is a companion volume to Enjoying Birds in Upstate New York—by two of the three authors of the new work. The names of the authors of the book under review, Dr. Olin S. Pettingill, Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, his Administrative Assistant Sally Hoyt Spofford, and Robert S. Arbid, onetime President of the Linnaean Society of New York, are sufficient guarantee of the excellence and accuracy of the text.

The first eight pages are devoted to preliminary advice to the bird watcher, such as how to recognize and watch birds, how to distinguish the various categories—permanent residents, summer residents, migrants, and vagrants—into which birds are divided; how to recognize their habitat preferences, and how to classify birds by families and then to identify the species. Various aids in this direction are given. The main part of this book falls into two parts. In the first section, illustrated with marginal line drawings by Orville O. Rice—the best which this reviewer can remember having seen for some time—eighty species are discussed, each with its own charming vignette, field description notes, and points to look out for; food and mode of feeding; usual habitat and, occasionally for the resident species, brief description of nests and eggs.

Here we find, among the non-passerine species, the common loon and horned grebe, three representatives of the heron family, a swan and a goose and six species of duck, four hawks, the introduced pheasant, the clapper rail, and a coot. There are fewer shore birds in this category than a stranger to the area might expect, only six being named in this popular family—but there must be many others during the season of migration which the enthusiast can watch for. The gulls and terns have one species each, the pigeons two, the cuckoos, owls, nighthawks, swifts, and kingfishers one for each family, as has even the ruby-throated hummingbird, classed as an uncommon summer resident from late April to mid-September! The downy woodpecker and the flicker complete this group, and are followed by the thirty-eight passerine birds, each with its charming portrait.

The second section gives the reader minute instructions for finding all the eighty birds described in the first section and we learn with astonishment that “New York City and its nearby counties have produced records for more than 400 species, and about every year the list creeps upward.” There are many reasons, we are told, for this remarkable number in New York State: a climate with a wide range of moods, its position athwart the Atlantic flyway with its shore lines, rivers, and ridges to attract migrating birds. New York, being “water rimmed,” has its eastern arm stretching far out into the Atlantic, bringing to its shores countless pelagic birds, in addition to waifs and strays from overseas. These are among the sound reasons given for such a concentration of birds in the area with which this book deals.

Lists of birds under their habitat preference are given on pp. 58-59, and in the pages which follow 200 localities and their salient features are succinctly described, with notes on which birds are likely to be found there. The names of these localities are printed in clarendon fount, and the most important—seventeen in all—are accompanied by a full-page clearly drawn map. Those who live within reach of, or in, New York City now have a guide of remarkable clarity, for each map is beautifully drawn in a good scale, in which woods, ponds, lakes, rocks, and even parking places and a cemetery can be found at a glance. The text on the opposite page gives instructions how to get there, what to make for when you arrive, and which birds you may expect to encounter in the various sections of each map. Nothing could be clearer. Just to take one example:

SHINNECOCK BAY and INLET are south of Hampton Bays. This marine bay is sheltered by barrier beach, with access to the sea through a narrow inlet. The sandbars a few hundred yards from the islet are sometimes very good for shore birds and southern wanderers; they are best approached by row boat. Nesting Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls frequent the islands at the Inlet; the Least Tern and Piping Plover nest on Shinnecock Beach, as well as spotted Sandpipers, American Oyster-catcher, and Prairie Horned Lark. The beach is excellent for Snowy and short-eared Owls in flight years; and is a regular location for the Purple Sandpiper. Look seaward for Shearwaters and Jaegers in late summer. A bird banding project on Tiana Beach, on the barrier beach near the Tiana Coast Guard Station just west of Inlet, banded in six autumns more than 22,000 birds of 131 species including 30 species of warblers and rarities such as Sage Thrasher, Bell’s Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, yellow-throated warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Larksparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow!

When we realize that for every one of the maps and for all the countless localities mentioned, similar information as that given above for Shinnecock Bay is clearly set forth, we can appreciate the devoted work which has gone into the making of this scholarly production.

The principal subjects of the full-page maps should be mentioned. These are: The Ramble in Central Park, Inwood Hill Park and Ft. Tryon, Prospect Park, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay, Staten Island, Jones Beach, Hempstead Lake Area, Shinnecock Bay, Montauk, Smithtown, Orient Point, Nature Study Woods, Croton Point Park, Rockland County, and Troy Meadows.

This section of the book is illustrated with line drawings by William C. Dilger, and, while perhaps adequate for the purpose, they are coarser in execution than those in the earlier section. They lack the master’s touch evident in Orville Rice’s work, which in some respects reminds one of the superlative draughtsmanship of George Miksch Sutton. There is also a Bird-watchers Calendar for New York City where, under each separate month, we are given advice as to the climatic conditions likely to be experienced, and the influence of the weather and the seasons on the bird population. A checklist and Calendar graph is provided (p. 129) of some 300 species that one is most likely to see at some time of the year in the New York City region. To an ornithologist unfamiliar with New York it will come as a revelation that the snow goose and blue goose, the turkey vulture, bald eagle, black skimmer, and snowy owl—to name but half a dozen—can find a place in this list, not to speak of some of the very rare passerines. The habitat in which each species may be expected to occur is indicated, as well as the most likely time of year for its appearance.

A chapter on attracting birds with hints as to what to plant in one’s garden brings this excellent little book to a conclusion. To anyone living within miles of the area Enjoying Birds Around New York City will be indispensable.

Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, is an ambitious attempt to cram all the birds in the Peterson Field Guides between two small covers, and the result has been surprisingly successful. This is one of the Golden Guide Series for which we are informed that Dr. Zim—one of the three authors—is himself responsible. We should have thought that one of his first responsibilities would be to see that any book with which his name is so closely associated opens properly and stays open without any danger of breaking the paper-backed cover. But one cannot expect everything for less than three dollars, and the 154 plates depicting some hundreds of birds in full color are well worth the money. The plates are certainly remarkable and are by Arthur Singer, the now renowned artist who illustrated Birds of the World, not to be confused with The World of Birds.

There is no doubt that Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, though it lacks the Peterson touch, will be immensely popular, and many will overlook the annoyance of the binding fault when they come to use it in the field. Mr. Singer’s draughtsmanship when he knows the bird in life is of a high order—I wonder however if he has ever studied the graceful Noddy terns; his two pictures of those birds do not do them justice. Nor do I like all the colored backgrounds against which he has chosen to show his subjects: the plates of doves facing pp. 154 and 156 are examples, and the awful clash of color between the Rosy Spoonbill and the American Flamingo (facing p. 98) with the background against which they are shown. But such points are a matter of taste. By and large Mr. Singer’s plates for what they are intended are very good indeed. It is always difficult to judge the merits of color reproductions without having the original before one. On the whole these plates look as if the blockmakers have done their job well, if one takes into consideration the low cost of the book.

The text accompanying the illustrations is conveniently placed on the opposite page. Sometimes as many as eight species are discussed; consequently notes are shortened, but these appear to be to the point as far as they go. They help the reader to know what to look for and where to look. The small color maps are more difficult to follow, although a prefatory note is helpful: areas marked in blue indicate the winter range (in North America), the summer or breeding range is in red, and areas in which the bird is to be found throughout the year are in mauve. But one is left in some doubt as to what the areas in yellow depict, unless it be the rest of North America where nothing happens at all! The volume ends with a brief bibliography of well-known field guides, regional books, and some which are strictly popular: about forty titles in all. The Index of both English (or should one say American) and Latin names seems to have been well planned. This little volume deserves a wide public; nothing could be easier to slip in one’s pocket.

FROM THE ENVIRONS of New York and the great open spaces of North America to the islands of New Zealand is a far distance indeed, but a very rewarding one for an ornithologist, armed as he must certainly be with A Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand by three professional Zoologists, led by Dr. Robert Falla, an Honorary Fellow of the American and British Ornithologists’ Unions. He and his collaborators have done a fine job and have produced a handy volume, which is not too bulky (7 1/2 × 4 1/2 in., and weighing only 15 ounces) to carry in the field.

FROM THE EXCELLENT Preface by Dr. Sibson we learn that the are covered by this Field Guide embraces not only the two main islands of New Zealand but also the equally important islands extending to the Kermadecs in the north and to Macquarie Island in the south, including many smaller ones off shore, the breeding places of albatrosses, mollymawks, penguins, and innumerable petrels which, in addition to the endemic land birds on the main islands, as well as those of the past, make the New Zealand avifauna perhaps the most interesting in the whole world. All these birds are given concise treatment in this volume and every page is worth reading, crammed as it is with information supplied by three first-rate naturalists. We in Great Britain, and no doubt our colleagues in the States, have in past years been greatly troubled by the reports of diminishing species in New Zealand and its islands, and it is splendid to read Dr. Sibson’s verdict that

the decline in many native birds, so marked in the nineteenth century, seems to be arrested. Most in fact are holding their own; some have turned the corner and are utilising new habitats, such as hydro-electric dams, reclaimed salt-marshes, manmade forests of exotic pines, swamplands now choked with willow and alder.

That is refreshing news indeed and reflects great credit on the men responsible for the protection laws, who have the conservation of their fauna at heart, and have enabled such a change of outlook to take place. We all remember from our boyhood days the number and variety of flightless birds, typified by the Kiwis, which were evolved in New Zealand. How many of us were aware that there were many species of Kiwis, and not only one? Three in fact have survived to this day, but the giant Moas—the most famous of all New Zealand birds—were extinct before the close of the seventeenth century. One bird, Notornis mantelli, long believed extinct, dramatically reappeared in the fastnesses of the Murchison and Kepler ranges where in 1948 it was re-discovered. This was a ponderous flightless gallinule known as the “Takahe” or “Moho,” with huge bill and legs and brilliant iridescent green and blue plumage. If miracles like that can happen, who knows what surprises may yet be in store for New Zealand naturalists? The text of this field guide has all that the most exacting ornithologist living in or visiting New Zealand can want, and the text is truly embellished with Miss Chloë Talbot Kelly’s plates and drawings. She has indeed found her true niche in the art of illustrating bird books, and the lucky chance which came her way to get to know the New Zealand birds in the field has been seized with both hands. We should like to see this handy field guide enlarged into a History of New Zealand Birds and compiled by the same distinguished team, with the financial assistance of the State.

  • Email
  • Print