Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: A Field Guide to Little-Known and Seldom Seen Birds of North America

A Field Guide to Little-Known and Seldom Seen Birds of North America is just a damn funny, well-observed, thorough and insightful parody, a book that rolls gleefully rolls in the mud of birding nerdiness and comes out squeaky clean.  It's a book seemingly borne out of that familiar feeling of not birding - of being stuck behind a desk or in a classroom thinking about birds and doodling them in the margins of your notebook.  It's imaginative, is what I'm saying, exploring the same sense of wonder that makes birders birders in the first place.

If you hadn't figured it out, it's a field guide to fake birds. Beautifully illustrated by John Sill and authored by John and his almost-certainly relatives Ben and Cathryn Sill (their relationship isn't made clear anywhere in the book), the bulk of the book is made up of fully-fleshed invented species.  Comedically, the species run the gamut from keen birding observations (see: the Middle, Least and Very Least Yellowlegs complex, or the Small Flycatcher) to plumage jokes (see: Military Warbler or Texas Warbler) to straight-up, satisfying puns (see: the Spring Kite, a raptor with a long tail and a diamond shape that perches by tangling in a tree).

It's tempting to skim through and laugh at the illustrations, but the book rewards cover-to-cover reading (or punishes, depending on your stomach for worn-out groaners including the "Under the Bleachers by I.P. Freely" family).  Good riffs on field guide self-seriousness and biologic mumbo-jumbo are there for the taking.  Buy this book and give it to a birder friend of yours, they'll recognize it as the work of kindred spirits.

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