Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review - Woodpeckers of the World: A Photographic Guide

I may be one of the first consumers in the United States to have purchased this book.  My copy of Woodpeckers of the World:  A Photographic Guide by Gerard Gorman, published in North America by Firefly Books and pre-ordered from Amazon, was delivered to me one day during the last week of June and, it seems, about two to three weeks ahead of its originally scheduled publication date.  The European edition is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and has a different cover and a slightly different title.

Cover photo:  Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)  

I had planned to write a review of this book on my blog; I just didn't know the best place to include the review.  Now having the book in my hands, I don't want to wait too long so I decided it should be between my Black Woodpecker blog entry and my White-backed Woodpecker entry.

You won't find photos like this on my White-backed Woodpecker blog, pp 252-253.

As already mentioned, I spent a week birding in Hungary with Gerard Gorman, the author of this book.  By now I've read completely Gerard's book, Black Woodpecker:  A monograph of Dryocopus martius, published by Lynx, 2011.  This highly readable narrative is a documentation of one woodpecker species that advances our understanding of every aspect of the black woodpecker.  Each chapter is accompanied by one or two well-drawn illustrations and, in the final pages, color photographs and bibliography complete the book.  As I've written, Black Woodpecker:  A monograph ... should be required reading for foresters worldwide as well as conservation groups.

Woodpeckers of the World ... is a true photographic guide.  You will first want to sit down with your favorite drink and slowly turn the pages to savor the photographs used for this book.  Approximately 200 or so photographers are recognized for their contributions on pages 519 - 520.  It's not just that you will want to see the photographs; you will be immediately drawn to woodpeckers you wish to see.  For me there are many, but one - just because my book is open to page 343 - is Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (Colaptes rivolii).  Or how about the Yellow-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes flavifrons), p. 117, occupying east and southeast Brazil, east Paraguay and northeast Argentina?  I think I would stop dead in my tracks if I saw this bird.

You will also learn about the status of each woodpecker species in their countries and continents.  For example, South America seems to have the most species of woodpeckers.  Of these, with few exceptions, most of the tiny piculets in the genus Picumnus occupy just a dot on that huge continent.  I was reminded of my trip to Cali, Colombia in March, 2012 where I searched, unsuccessfully, for the Greyish Piculet (Picumnus granadensis), p 86.  Now I know why I was unsuccessful.

Depending on whose counting, there are 239 species of woodpeckers in the world.  Gerard Gorman has seen and studied three-quarters of these.  For example, he's been to the Andaman Islands to see the Andaman Woodpecker (Dryocopus hodgei), p. 395.  That's a woodpecker specialist, and a Brit, for you.  As I write this, I happen to know that Gerard is currently in southeast Arizona to study Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae), p. 276 and the Gila Woodpecker (Colaptes chrysalides), p. 353.  After a week in Arizona, he will travel to Oregon to study Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroidues), p. 154 and Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), p. 291.

The book has a well-organized table of contents and lists each bird by genus.  There are 29 genera of woodpecker and each genus is briefly described.  The range maps are large and well-drawn, though some may challenge our American knowledge of world geography.  Not to worry.  There is also a narrative range description to let us know where that unfamiliar cluster of islands is actually located.

Many [bird] book review[er]s seem to search for at least one flaw in a book and will go lengths to defend their observation.  I don't find flaws in this book. It's not a field guide, and generally I think we have enough field guides anyway.  Rather, Woodpeckers of the World ... is an attractive, accessible and inviting work of scholarship.

Finally, there is something very appealing about a worldwide compilation that you can hold in your hands. You will be awed by spectacular woodpecker species found elsewhere in the world, and you will be proud of those found in your own backyard, no matter where your backyard is located.  All are here and included with equal attention.  There is Michigan, p. 156, nearly fully covered with the ochre-color of summer passage and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), one of my favorite birds, looking very smart.

I've always liked woodpeckers but they seem to get side-stepped by our migratory new world warblers, tanagers, hummingbirds and the like. Indeed most woodpeckers do not undertake seasonal migrations and the majority are highly sedentary, p. 15.  But, if you bird with Gerard Gorman, you will develop a real appreciation for the Picidae family.  If you read his book, you will too.

In his introduction, p. 13, Gerard writes, "During my research it soon became clear that many species of woodpecker are poorly-known, with questions on taxonomy, biology, behavior, distribution and even existence remaining unanswered."  His book goes to the heart of introducing us to a family of birds, some of which are in our own backyard and most of which we can only dream to ever to see.  


Anonymous said...

just a question - are flickers included?

Cathy Carroll said...

Yes, Flickers are included.