Van Duivendijk: Advanced Bird ID Guide
by Rick Wright
Don’t we all, deep down, share Mr. Casaubon’s dream? How wonderful to reduce all of human knowledge to its principles, and to be able to deduce from them at will any fact, any detail!
Or perhaps it would be just as useful to have every fact and every detail at our fingertips all the time—which is the approach taken by Nils van Duivendijk in his Advanced Bird Guide. This is a bird book like no other, small enough for the pocket, if you’re so inclined, but dense enough for hours of amused, amazed browsing.
The guide covers some 1,300 taxa, including all of the species and field-diagnosable subspecies recorded in the west Palearctic (and some, such as Bicknell’s Thrush, still only anticipated). This obsessive completeness makes the book very useful to birders on this side of the Atlantic, too, who will find, for example, full treatments of eleven subspecies of white-cheeked Branta geese and four taxa of Common/Mew Gull. The coverage of ducks, shorebirds, redpolls, and 25 species of New World warblers, among other groups, is also particularly rewarding for North American birders.
Van Duivendijk comes out of a decidedly European tradition of “feather f[ondl]ing” (at least that’s how I assume the Foreword’s genteel asterisks are to be resolved), and the amount of detail included here for each taxon reflects that. The distinctive characters are provided in “bulleted” lists, broken down where possible by sex and age class; there is necessarily a fair amount of abbreviation, a circumstance that would have been eased by printing the key on the blank inside covers rather than in the introductory text. The sequence in which important marks are listed varies from species to species, making comparison at times awkward; for example, bill shape is the first character on the list for Marsh Sandpiper, the sixth for Lesser Yellowlegs.
These few formal difficulties are far outweighed by the richness of the material van Duivendijk provides. Structural differences between European and American Rough-legged Hawks, the female plumages of exotic pheasants, indications of hybrid origin in American, Eurasian, and Chiloe Wigeons: it’s all here in terse, telegraphic notes.
What it’s not all here in is pictures. Apart from a single opening showing the topography of a shorebird, a gull, and a passerine, the only illustrations in the book are on the cover. This book will profit the reader nothing who doesn’t already know that she’s looking at either a Saker or a Lanner, a Booted Warbler or a Sykes’s; it is in this sense that the book is an “advanced” guide, requiring as it does that the user be able to make the first eliminations herself before taking advantage of the information it provides.
Any birder capable of taking that first step with confidence will find each further step easier thanks to this guide, which inspires intermediate and experienced birders to go beyond species-level identification to look carefully at the possibilities of aging and sexing birds in the field. This is the only book I’ll be taking with me to Europe this spring: now if only we could get the author to write a companion volume for the Nearctic!