The Princeton Encyclopedia of Birds beckoned me to explore as soon as I took it from the shipping box. As I started thumbing through the pages, I soon came upon the Limpkin, which I had just seen for the first time in Florida, and paused to explore the in-depth information. As I read about its form and function, diet and breeding biology, my mind wafted back to my adolescence when I could be found sitting on the floor in our hall in front of the shelves containing our set of encyclopedias. I could explore them for hours, delving into new topics each time I pulled a volume off the shelf and opened it to an interesting entry.
In addition to the above information, the Limpkin article contained a photograph showing it sitting on its nest, as well as an intricate colored drawing that demonstrated how this species uses both its foot and beak to recover the innards of the water snails that comprise its diet.
The Limpkin is the only member of the New World family Aramidae; however, the book’s description of Rails, which includes 133 species, is equally complete, without becoming tedious. Five colored line-drawings demonstrate the variations in bill shape, and there are six additional drawings of representative species. In addition to the headings of Form and Function, Diet and Breeding Biology, it contains a section (included for most family groups) on Conservation and Environment. It also features two text boxes – one on frontal shields and one called “to fly or not to fly.”
Sprinkled throughout the book are Special Features, which highlight specific aspects of a species or conservation issue. Examples include “Feeding by Touch – Tactile foraging techniques in ibises and spoonbills,” “Shell Shock – The effects of pesticides on birds of prey,” and “Woodland Drumbeats and Dances – The communication system of woodpeckers,”
Equally fascinating were the multitude of black-and-white line drawings illustrating movement and positioning in courting (e.g. nightjar courtship displays), defense and appeasement displays (e.g. Common Murre), feeding (e.g. kingfisher’s dive and how a bee-eater pursues its prey), and wing-beats (e.g. Swordbill Hummingbird’s wing-beat sequence).
In addition, there are a number of interesting Photo Stories, including examples of Bowerbirds’ installations and a photo-sequence demonstrating how a Weaver constructs its nest.
The encyclopedia is a gem, one I have only begun to explore.