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ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

Yesterday, the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC) unanimously (8–0) accepted the Egyptian Goose (Alopochen… [read more]

ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American… [read more]

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out! 2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

2014 Camp Colorado

July 4, 2014: 10:00 am. I’ve just picked up my rental car at the airport in Denver and am driving by… [read more]

2014 Camp Colorado 2014 Camp Colorado

How to Record Birdsong—Part 1

  Two years ago in this space I wrote a three-part primer on the use of digital audio recorders for… [read more]

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Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

Here are three images that appear in the “Featured Photo” column of the May/June 2014 issue of Birding.… [read more]

Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

On Stringing…

(with apologies to “Pat Stringer”) Never identify a bird unless you’re 100% positive. At least… [read more]

On Stringing… On Stringing...
Nikon Monarch 7

    Guardians of the Forests

    A review by Noel Snyder

    Woodpeckers of the World: A Photographic Guide, by Gerard Gorman

    Firefly Books, 2014

    528 pages, $49.95—hardcover

    ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14365

    Gerard Gorman’s stunningly illustrated Woodpeckers of the World provides basic information on all of the species in the family Picidae, including the woodpeckers, sapsuckers, flickers, flamebacks, piculets, and the peculiar wrynecks. Gorman counts 239 species, while acknowledging that other authorities recognize different totals; the number can be expected to increase, not primarily because of the discovery of previously unknown birds, but as a result of the recent trend toward “splitting” already known populations.

    The book’s introductory sections concisely treat the distribution of various groups, the cultural importance of some species, trends in taxonomy, movements and migration, peculiarities of anatomy and morphology, habitat preferences, behavioral diversity, breeding habits, peculiarities of plumage and molt, sexual dimorphism, foods and foraging habits, flight characteristics, vocalizations and drumming behavior, roles in controlling prey populations, and conservation issues.

    firefly coverIntriguing as all of those aspects are, they are only preliminary to the main emphasis of this book, the species accounts. All species are treated in individual accounts, usually two or three pages long, and nearly all are illustrated by multiple photographs. Many woodpeckers are strikingly colored, and most of these photographs are magnificent portrayals of the birds in natural surroundings, often engaged in characteristic behavior. All together, these materials give the reader an appreciation of the full diversity of this family in a very attractive format.

    Covering all the world’s woodpeckers and weighing in at a substantial three pounds, this book is not intended primarily as a field guide, but is instead a convenient basic sourcebook that will find a home in the libraries of ornithologists, naturalists, conservationists, and birdwatchers in many countries. Still, it does give detailed  descriptions for the field identification of adults, juveniles, and races of the various species, enhanced by the well-chosen photographs. These materials will allow reliable identification of species seen well or photographed in the field, at least retrospectively.

    Each species account also includes a map of breeding and non-breeding season ranges, descriptions of vocalizations and drumming sounds, and statements of status, habitat preference, similar species, and foods and foraging behavior.

    BINbuttonThe family Picidae as defined here is found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica; it is perhaps best represented in South America and least well represented in Africa. Members of the family also occur on many of the world’s islands, but are absent from Greenland, Madagascar, Hawaii, and most other islands of the open Pacific Ocean. Many of the species resident in the West Indies and East Indies are endemic to single islands or to groups of closely associated islands.

    Occupying a nearly worldwide range in temperate and tropical regions, the woodpeckers must be considered to have undergone one of the most successful evolutionary radiations among birds. Even in regions picids have not managed to occupy, one sees other bird species convergently picking up some of their characteristics. On the Galapagos Islands, the tool-using Woodpecker Finch (Camarhynchus pallidus) exploits insects in the trunks and branches of trees, while in Australia, several species of cockatoos have developed the ability to harvest wood-boring beetles and other wood-dwelling insects.

    In size, members of the family Picidae range from the piculets, some barely 8 cm in length, to the probably extinct Imperial Woodpecker, which sometimes reached 60 cm. Few species are migratory, and although most are adapted to woodlands and either drill nest holes in tree trunks or are secondary cavity nesters in trees, several species, including the Campo Flicker and the Andean Flicker of South America and the Ground Woodpecker of Africa, thrive in open country, where they often dig nests in earth banks or termite mounds. The role of many woodpeckers in providing nest cavities for secondary cavity-nesting birds, and the interactions among these species over nest sites and food supplies, involve behaviors of surprising complexity.

    Most woodpeckers are monogamous, with both parents participating in the rearing of young, but members of this family also exhibit some of the most complicated social systems among birds. In the familiar Acorn Woodpecker, clans comprising multiple adult females and males collaborate with juveniles in feeding nestlings.

    Among the specialized family features Gorman touches on are behavioral characteristics, such as drumming, and anatomical characteristics, such as the zygodactyl arrangement of the toes, with two digits pointing forward and two to the rear. Especially interesting are the anatomical adaptations of the head region, which enable true woodpeckers to deal with the severe mechanical stress of pounding bills into wood.

    As a group, the woodpeckers are far from limited to feeding on wood-boring insects. Many species also take fruits and seeds. Some feed extensively on sap and the insects attracted to  sap wells drilled into living trunks; some feed on nectar, some on small vertebrates such as lizards. And some, such as the Red-headed Woodpecker and the Lewis’s Woodpecker of North America, are highly accomplished in the aerial capture of flying insects.

    As to conservation, Gorman notes the probable recent extinction of only two of the world’s woodpeckers, both residents of North Americathe Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the Imperial Woodpecker. But other species in many regions are also declining and threatened to various degrees, perhaps especially by continuing deforestation.

    Despite the massive public attention given recently to ivory-bills and imperials, Gorman wisely avoids the quagmire of commenting on recent sightings, and in an apparent effort to achieve balance, he provides no more text coverage for these notorious birds than for others. Fortunately, as a consolation for ivory-bill- and imperial-starved readers, his bibliography lists a number of recent publications on those species.

    To avoid repetition and save space, Gorman does not provide a separate bibliography for each species, but instead presents an extensive bibliography of woodpecker publications in general since 2002. For earlier works, he refers the reader to the bibliographies in Winkler, Christie, and Nurney’s 1995 Woodpeckers: a guide to the woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks of the world and to Winkler and Christie’s 2002 Family Picidae in Handbook of the birds of the world. Readers seeking additional information will also be well advised to consult the species accounts in the Birds of North America series and in Short’s Woodpeckers of the world.

    My overall reaction to this book is strongly positive. It is a beautifully illustrated monograph, somewhat in the tradition of early natural history, deliberately designed to capture the attention of readers with its aesthetic appeal. Some of the more than 700 photographs by more than 200 photographers are among the finest woodpecker illustrations in circulation, and many depict species unfamiliar to most readers.

    I expect that the book will receive criticism for not being an exhaustive compilation of all woodpecker information, but that simply is not its intent. If it had been, the poundage of the book would probably have exceeded the “carrying capacity” of most readers. The information provided here is enough to answer most questions. For those whose curiosity is more compulsive, there are other, more detailed accounts, such as those in the BNA series.

    Woodpeckers of the World succeeds admirably in presenting a concise but informative review of the world’s picids, and should be viewed as the sort of volume that will stimulate readers into seeking additional information or even conducting their own studies. Especially with its many fine photographs, the book captures the romance of a highly charismatic family of birds, surely a worthy goal in its own right.

    14-5-03-07 [Noel Snyder]

    - Noel Snyder is retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he led field research and conservation programs for the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, Everglade Kite, and California Condor. His publications include books and papers on these species and more recent volumes on the Carolina Parakeet and Ivory-billed Woodpecker. 

    Recommended citation:

    Snyder, N. 2014. Guardians of the Forests [a review of Woodpeckers of the World, by Gerard Gorman]. Birding 46(5): 67.

      Rare Bird Alert: October 24, 2014

      As we sit on the cusp of rarity season, the possibilities seem endless. Late October into November has historically been a very good time to look for unusual birds, and while the floodgates have yet to open completely, a few interesting and notable sightings have the birding community, coast to coast, ready for more.

      We’ll start on the west coast this week, where in Washington a pair of noteworthy records in the form of a Black-headed Gull (ABA Code 3) near Everett and a Northern Wheatear on Vashon Island.

      Photo by John Puschock, used with permission

      Photo by John Puschock, used with permission

      Two first records this week, one from a not yet countable part of North America and the other a bird whose identity is not yet confirmed (but looks pretty good). The former, a flock of passerines containing at least 4 Brambling, were seen on Kure Atoll in Hawaii. The Bramblings are a state first, the other birds in the flock have not yet been identified, but as any vagrant passerine in Hawaii is pretty big news, they could yet be something very exciting.

      And in Ohio, a good candidate for Arctic Loon was well-photographed in Muskingum. It’s an exceptionally unlikely bird anywhere away from Alaska, and in particular away from the Pacific coast. We wait with bated breath for more confident souls to weight in.

      Though the birders are off the Bering Sea islands now, rare birds are still showing up in Alaska, the latest a Rustic Bunting (3) at a feeder in Auke Bay.

      Heading back west for one of the strangest vagrant stories of the week. A cargo ship carrying a Brambling (3) arrived yesterday in Long Beach, California. The bird apparently survived the trip, so if you are not averse to ship-assisted birds there one for you.

      In Oregon, the state’s 3rd record of Red-throated Pipit (3) was found in Josephine, in the southwest corner of the state.

      In Utah, good birds this week include a Magnolia Warbler in Davis and a Blue Jay at a feeder in Salt Lake.

      For Arizona, both a Brown Thrasher and a Baltimore Oriole, both in Pima, are nice finds.

      And a Wood Thrush turned up at a migrant trap in Roosevelt, New Mexico.

      In Oklahoma, a Rock Wren was seen on a college campus in Kay.

      Kansas’s 4th record of Painted Redstart was found in far southwest Ellsworth.

      In Louisiana, a Say’s Phoebe was seen in St. Landry.

      Florida also had a Say’s Phoebe this week, this one in Monroe/

      A MacGillivray’s Warbler was an exceptional find in Fulton, Georgia.

      In New Jersey, noteworthy finds include a White-winged Dove in Cape May and an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Monmouth.

      A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a dramatic bird in Nassau, New York.

      A number of nice birds were found in Quebec this week, including a Varied Thrush at Côte-Nord, a White-eyed Vireo at Domaine de Maizerets à Québec, and a Barnacle Goose (4) among a flock of Snow Geese in Chaudière-Appalaches.

      Wisconsin’s 5th Anna’s Hummingbird was visiting a feeder this week in Sauk.

      And in Illinois, a Lark Bunting was found by the lake in Cook.


      Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT aba.org and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

      Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds <aba.org/nab>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA.

        Unabashedly Enchanted

        A review by Julia Zarankin

        Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird, by Tim Birkhead

        Walker and Company, 2012

        265 pages, $25.00—hardcover

        ABA Sales / Buteo Books 13858

        In his famous essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?,” the philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that the nature of consciousness makes it impossible [read more...]

          Anticipating Memory

          A Review by Al Schirmacher

          Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-language Haiku, edited and with an introduction by Allan Burns

          Snapshot Press, 2014

          479 pages, $49.95–hardcover

          ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14462

          Each of us has filters, mental and emotional screens that help us interpret experience. Poetry allows us to temporarily install [read more...]

            SNEAK PEEK! Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy, 2014

            The 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy is on its way to members’ mailboxes. But you can view it (plus additional content) on online right now by clicking on the cover at right. It’s free to everyone. (Birder’s Guide is just one of the free resources that the ABA provides to the birding public.)

            Editorial content [read more...]

              Blog Birding #208

              Young birder camps aren’t just great opportunities for the campers, but the interns have a story to tell too. At The Eyrie, Mike Hudson writes about his experiences at Camp Avocet.

              Aside from being able to bird every waking hour, I also had the privilege to be guiding alongside the other instructors, which is not [read more...]

                An Early Rufous Hummingbird?

                It’s a typical story, but no less moving for its familiarity: On the sudden loss of his wife, the German merchant Peter Heinrich Tesdorpf turned to his beloved birds for solace. Even in his bereavement, Tesdorpf could still find pleasure in the magic of the feathered — especially in the wondrous beauty of the [read more...]

                  Open Mic: A New World Big Day Record – 354 Species!

                  The LSU Peru Big Day team has broken the world record for the most species observed in a single day! Their total of 354 ABA-countable species breaks the previous record by Robinson and Parker set in 1982 (as well as a non-ABA-recognized total of 342 set in Kenya). Below is a report on their effort [read more...]

                    Rare Bird Alert: October 17, 2014

                    We continue the run for 1st records this week, and while it’s nothing like the streak we enjoyed this time last year, it’s not so bad. Though it seems that a couple of our firsts this week are the victims of odd circumstances rather than straight ahead, unequivocal, uncontroversial first records.

                    On the uncontroversial front, [read more...]

                      Open Mic: Tackling the World Big Day Record, Part 2

                      The following is an update from Louisiana State University Big Day team members on their progress in scouting for their Peru Big Day, an attempt to break the world big day record while raising support for research on Neotropical birds. The ABA is excited to offer them a platform for promoting their attempt. For more [read more...]

                      Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
                      If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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