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Monday, February 13, 2012

Birds of India by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp: A review

The full title of this book is Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. In other words, it is a field guide that covers the birds of the entire Indian subcontinent, a mind-boggling 1375 species.

The amazing variety of colorful species represented in this field guide are a feast for the mind and the eye, even if one is not planning on boarding the next plane for a birding trip to the subcontinent. I just find it interesting to contrast and compare the bird life of our continent with that faraway place. Our continent, for example, has some 854 bird species, and that includes rarities, some of them very rare indeed. Of course, that number is growing yearly as the climate changes and birds of Central America move their ranges farther north. Will there come a time when we can claim 1375 species?

But I digress.

This field guide utilizes the tried and true Roger Tory Peterson method. There are lovely drawings of the birds, male and female, and sometimes juvenile and in breeding and non-breeding plumages. The drawings emphasize the field marks of the birds in a way that actual photographs are not always able to do. The drawings appear on the right side page. On the left side are the text which describes the bird, its status, its voice and habitat, and a small map which shows the location of the bird. The map is color-coded for permanent resident, former range, summer visitor, winter visitor, migratory visitor, and "known to be occasional, scarce or erratic." Thus, on two facing pages, the reader gets a view of the bird and a very succinct written profile, as well as a visual representation of the bird's location in the world. It is a remarkably effective and efficient way of presenting a large amount of information in a relatively small space, and it has scarcely been improved upon, although often refined, since Peterson's first guides.

The book also has much useful information in the mandatory "How to use this book" section. As in most such field guides, there is a schematic drawing which shows and names the different parts of birds and their plumage. There is also a glossary with explanations of terminology that is used in describing birds, and there are sections about the climate, the main habitats and bird species.

There is also a fascinating section on conservation. It includes such topics as religious attitudes and traditional protection. It delineates current threats to the various habitats and some of the conservation measures that are being taken to try to ameliorate the situation. I found this section to be among the most interesting parts of the book because it gives a picture not just of the bird life present but of the human culture and how the world of Nature relates to that culture.

The authors of this book obviously know their subjects well. Richard Grimmett is head of conservation at BirdLife International. Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp are freelance wildlife consultants. All three have traveled widely in Asia and have written a series of books on the continent's birds.

If you are planning a birding trip to the Indian subcontinent, you would do well to make room in your luggage for this terrific field guide. Even if you are mostly an armchair traveler like me, this book offers a wonderful view of the world of birds and the challenges they face in that important part of the world.

(An advance review copy of this book was provided to me at no cost by the publisher for purposes of this review. The book will be published on March 7.)        


  1. Well, I guess I can dream can't I? :)

  2. We all can, troutbirder, and this book will definitely feed those dreams.