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The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds    by David Bird order for
Bird Almanac
by David Bird
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is a remarkable reference (revised and reissued from the original 1949 edition) for anyone fascinated by the world of birds. Whether you're a serious bird-watcher, or simply enjoy birdsong in the backyard, The Bird Almanac has answers to all kinds of questions.

The almanac opens on a 'Fossil History of Birds' (where I noted with interest that fossils of the Cretaceous period resemble loons), followed by terms for anatomical characteristics, describing bill, tail, wings etc.. A diagram shows how to take measurements. Physiological tables include heartrates (the turkey clocks 93 a minute compared to 615 for the hummingbird) and breathing rates. I found out that the loon stays underwater the longest with a diving duration of up to 10 minutes, but the penguin dives deepest (540 m for the Emperor penguin!) Data includes flight speeds, territory sizes, nest types, clutch sizes and mortality rates (would you believe, an 80 year-old raven?) There are names of endangered species, and a fascinating list of 'Mascot Birds' (owls are popular in Canada, and my favorite, the loon is provincial bird for Ontario, as well as state bird for Minnesota).

We all know that the bluebird means happiness and the dove symbolizes peace, but did you know that the cuckoo brings rain or that the kingfisher is associated with calm seas? Names of 'Assemblages of Birds' are fun for those who collect factoids ... 'a Charm' of finches, 'a Farce' of jays, 'a Gulp' (my favorite) of cormorants. Bird world records interested me, especially the physiology ones - the African grey parrot wins 'most talkative' with a vocabulary of 800 words, and the New Zealand kakapo is clearly the loudest (heard 4 miles away!) There's a 'Who's Who', an FAQ, a glossary, a taxonomy, a listing of ornithological societies around the world and of common names, information on bird carving, bird stamps, bird-watching (the tips for picking binoculars look handy), and general birding resources. I found the section on tips for attracting birds to the back yard particularly useful. It has information on nesting boxes and materials, favorite plants and trees, feeding preferences (with recipes like 'Miracle Meal'), plus tips to set up a bird bath.

What isn't in here are pictures of individual birds for bird spotting. Aside from that, The Bird Almanac covers the birding world. Whether you want to encourage more birdsong in your garden, or to take a bird-watching holiday in South Africa, this comprehensive volume will point you in the right direction.

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