The world’s rarest birds

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Photograph by Huajin Sun.

RarestBirdsCover_600.jpg

Grus japonensis – red-crowned crane. This photograph, which adorns the dust jacket of The World’s Rarest Birds, earned second prize in the “endangered or data-deficient” category of a worldwide photo contest. I will review the book briefly, below the fold.

Note added May 21, 11:00 a.m., MDT: You may see the contest winners here and the winners of a second contest here.

The editors of this splendid book sought photographs of as many endangered bird species as possible. To that end, they organized a photography contest and garnered over 3500 entries from more than 300 photographers and selected more than 500 photographs for inclusion in the book. The 7 contest winners are displayed in the frontispiece to the book, but frankly they have little or nothing over a great many of the other photographs in the book.

The World’s Rarest Birds is a big book at 8.5 x 11 in (approximately A4) and 330 pages, not counting acknowledgments, index, and whatnot. It is well printed on slick, heavy paper. All but perhaps a dozen or two pages display at least one stunning photograph, and often many. The plumage on many of the birds is remarkable; if you thought that feathers initially evolved for sexual selection, some of these pictures, at a minimum, will reinforce your opinion.

Those who read the book will be like the blind men and the elephant. Photographers will see a photography book. Birdwatchers will see a field guide to rare birds. Conservationists will see extinction. And dilettantes will see a coffee-table book. All will be in some measure correct.

The first chapter is a catchall that outlines the threats to endangered birds, from agriculture, to habitat loss and invasive species, to pollution and mining. The rest of the book is organized by region and provides thumbnail descriptions of each species, its range, its estimated population, and the threats against it. Many of the species are numbered at “<50.” The California condor, for example, numbers 44, but a little green upward-pointing arrow indicates increasing population. The majority of species, unfortunately, are shown with little red downward-pointing arrows that indicate decreasing population.

Like those who Google themselves or look themselves up in the Web of Science, I looked up North America and found in my area the Gunnison sage grouse, which was only recently recognized as a distinct species and which (according to the New York Times) is going extinct, right before our eyes; and the whooping crane, which reportedly has not been seen in Colorado since 2002.

Many of these birds have never had their pictures published before; 75 were drawn so meticulously that you cannot tell them from a photograph. I am afraid that many of these species will be gone by the time this book goes into a second edition.

9 Comments

One rare bird–a creationist (IDiot) who recognizes the import of originally articulated bones fusing to form wing structure, Archaeopteryx (among a host of fossils by now), and genes shared with mammals but modified differently.

Go birdies. While I doubt any is as rare as the above, too many are all too close to disappearing.

Glen Davidson

With regards to the Whooping Cranes in Colorado, the ones that were seen in the 90’s up until 2002 were birds from the experimental “cross-fostering” population in SW Montana. They were placed as eggs into Sandhill Crane nests. Unfortunately, they imprinted on their Sandhill Crane parents, and since appearance really seems to matter to cranes, they never bred with each other. The program was discontinued, and the last of them passed away a few years later.

There seems to be better news farther east – the original Wood Buffalo/Aransas population has slowly increased, and the Florida and Wisconsin introduced populations have at least attempted nesting as well.

My personal theory (probably advanced by innumerable others),is that feathers evolved for warmth, and everything else was just icing.

robert van bakel said:

My personal theory (probably advanced by innumerable others),is that feathers evolved for warmth, and everything else was just icing.

Do you mean hypothesis? My hypothesis is that, feathers evolved for sexual display.

Or maybe feathers got started as a side-effect of some more important feature.

There is a body of evidence that seems to suggest feathers originally evolved for display, and were co-opted for use in flight/gliding and thermoregulation.

EvoDevo said:

Do you mean hypothesis?

Even though it’s been almost a decade ago, I recall my geology professor mentioning on the first day of his course that a science hypothesis and a science fact are similar except for a different degree of evidence. While a science hypothesis can change into a fact, science theories don’t change into facts. Science theories instead explain/support facts like how atomic theory tries to explain tens of thousands of facts about matter.

I recall someone… perhaps biologist Ken Miller but I’m not sure… remark that there needs to be some way in the English language to distinguish well established scientific theories (such as the theory of friction, evolutionary theory, atomic theory, germ theory, etc) from scientific theories that are largely untested at the moment (perhaps the string theory in physics might be an example). Somewhat the equivalent of hypothesis/fact.

Still, of course even well established science theories (along with science laws and science facts) are subject to modification if new evidence is uncovered.

Sinjari said:

There is a body of evidence that seems to suggest feathers originally evolved for display, and were co-opted for use in flight/gliding and thermoregulation.

What might that body be?

I recall someone… perhaps biologist Ken Miller but I’m not sure… remark that there needs to be some way in the English language to distinguish well established scientific theories (such as the theory of friction, evolutionary theory, atomic theory, germ theory, etc) from scientific theories that are largely untested at the moment

I’d say just point out whether the theory is firmly supported by the currently available evidence.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on May 20, 2013 12:00 PM.

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