In a previous column, I sang the praises of eBird, the website maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.  This site serves as the depository for bird sightings from birders and ornithologists throughout North America and beyond.

Today, I want to point out one great resource that the eBird programmers have made available to take advantage of the many records in the database.  You can now see occurrence maps for a number of migratory birds in the United States.  The maps were created by relating the records of a particular species with 60 variables describing aspects of habitat, climate, and human population size throughout the U.S..  This model predicts the weekly occurrence of a species of interest as an animated map.  It’s really cool!  Check out the website at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/occurrence-maps/

At this point, the animations only cover the lower 48 states.  If you click on Lapland Longspur, you will see they move out of the United States during April.  That’s because they are migrating to their breeding grounds on the Canadian and Alaskan tundra.  They reappear in the lower 48 in September.  Similarly, neotropical migrants like the Scarlet Tanager appear on the animation in early April and are mostly gone by the first of October.  During the non-breeding season, most Scarlet Tanagers are in Bolivia, Perú or Ecuador.  I expect that in the future, the occurrence maps will include all of the western hemisphere.

The Atlas of Birds

Princeton University Press has recently released the Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior and Conservation by Mike Unwin.  The book is an overview of many different facets of the biology of birds.  The book is 144 pages long in a large format (8.5 by 11 inches).  The text is richly illustrated with color photographs and color maps.

The book is divided into seven units.  Introduction to Birds provides information on the fossil history of birds and the relationship of birds to the dinosaurs.  Brief coverage of feathers, a hallmark of birds, is provided.  Next is a section on Where Birds Live, focused on the birds of major geographic areas like Africa or Australasia.  The author briefly covers Important Bird Areas, sites identified by BirdLife International that provide vital habitat and resources for birds and hence have high conservation value.

The third section, Birds in Orders, is an efficient catalog of the major groups of birds, from the ratites (ostriches and relatives) to the perching birds.  A section on How Birds Live covers reproduction, foraging, coloniality and migration.

The fifth section is called Birds and People.  Here the author describes the importance of birds in human diets, in human culture and in simply providing human  pleasure.

Birds under Threat discusses extinction and some of the reasons for bird declines (loss of habitat, pollution, introduced species, climate change).  The final section, Protecting Birds, focuses on the efforts of BirdLife International, an umbrella group of non-government conservation organizations around the world.  The author gives some detail on the efforts to reduce albatross and other seabird deaths.  Many of these birds drown from getting hooked on long lines or getting trapped in trawling nets.   By using modified fishing gear and using bird-scaring devices to keep birds away from nets and lines, many seabird lives have been spared.

I found this book to be delightful.  The text in the book is limited so the coverage of any particular topic cannot be thorough.  Nevertheless, the author conveys a tremendous amount of interesting facts with a remarkable economy of words.

The book is laid out in facing page units so you can start reading anywhere.  It’s like eating at a smorgasbord.  No particular dish will be enough to fill you up but by the end of sampling all the dishes, you have a satisfying meal.

[First published on November 27, 2011]