Bird Fact Friday—Bonaparte’s Gull

Adapted from page 50 of Gulls Simplified:

Bonaparte’s is delicately proportioned overall, with a long-winged profile; a small, round head; and a petite, short, thin, straight, pointy, tern-like bill. In feeding flight, they often impart a potbellied profile when dipping down to the water’s surface to gather food. Initial confusion with terns is not just possible but likely because of their size, physical resemblance, and buoyant flight style. Legs are relatively short compared to those of other North American hooded gulls other than Little Gull.

An adult Boneparte’s Gull, photographed in Churchill, Manitoba around June. This bird is usually 12.3-13.8 inches long, with a wingspan between 30-36 inches.
Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

In flight, adults show a flashing white triangle on the leading edge of the outer wing, while 1st winter birds have reduced white on the underwing primary tips and black shafts and markings on a white outer wing triangle. Adults have uniformly pale silvery-gray upperparts and white underparts, making the black trailing edge to the outer wing and the black bill stand out.

Bonaparte’s is a small, petite gull with a dainty black bill. This complete breeding plumage is not regularly seen in parts of North America and is seen only briefly at normal migratory locations from April to May. Note the all-black hood (brown in Black-headed Gull), bold white eye arcs, and petite black bill (reddish to black in Black-headed). These nimble gulls commonly perch on elevated platforms, where the pink legs of adults are evident.

 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull

Bird Fact Friday —The Laughing Gull

Adapted from pages 35-37 of Gulls Simplified:

A flock of adult Laughing Gulls, photographed in New Jersey in May. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson

This lanky gull stands with a horizontal profile and shows black wing tips that are acutely pointed and extend well beyond the tail. A long, slender bill droops near the tip. Long, typically black legs are set moderately forward, with some birds showing dull to fairly bright red legs in the breeding season. The dark hood is replaced by a mostly white head with a dark ear patch and scattered dark markings on the crown in winter. 

On beaches and in the water, they tend to gather in tightly bunched monotypic flocks away from larger gulls. In mixed-species flocks, Laughing Gulls often segregate to one side. Very agile and aerial, this species is adept at snapping insects out of the air and may gather in wheeling numbers over  marshes and uplands when an insect hatch is in progress. They are also a threat to coastal tern colonies and beach-nesting shorebirds, since they can swoop in and grab an egg or small chick before the defending birds can react to their approach. The bird’s loud, raucous (laughing) call is iconic, as much a part of a visit to coastal beaches and marshes as the sound of surf and the tang of salt-laden air. The sound of feeding flocks approaches the level of a din. Breeding colonies are noisy, even at night.

Skilled foragers, Laughing Gulls are adept at plucking food from human hands, whether the morsel is offered or not, and they seem to know all about picnic baskets, potato chip bags, and their contents. Very social and vocal, Laughing Gulls also forage offshore in large aggregations, usually within sight of land, where noisy feeding flocks hover and wheel over schools of baitfish. They commonly pursue other gulls and seabirds to steal food.

While most commonly found on sandy beaches, Laughing Gulls also frequents tidal wetlands, plowed fields, parks, and picnic areas. You may also share your hotel swimming pool with these birds in coastal areas with warm climates as they drop by for a drink or a swim. Though mostly coastal year-round, individuals are occasionally found well inland, most commonly on freshly turned agricultural land, landfills, and the parking lots of food outlets.

 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull

 

Bird Fact Friday— Shining & Purple Honeycreepers

Adapted from pages 532-533 of Birds of Central America:

Illustrations of the Shining Honeycreeper and the Purple Honeycreeper, by Dale Dyer.

Tangers and Honeycreepers are small birds found mainly in canopy of humid broadleaf forest, often with mixed flocks. Female honeycreepers can often be separated by their heads and underpart patterns. 

The Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus) is found in south Mexico and the northern part of South America. It is an uncommon resident of humid foothills, and rare in Belize. They are identified by their yellow legs. Males ar violet-blue, with a black face, throat, and wings. Female have a bluish crown, nape, and malaria, with whitish underparts with a blue streaking. Their rarely heard dawn song is a thin, high-pitched, repeated tsip tsip chaa, tsip tsip chaa. Meanwhile, their calls are a high-pitched, thin, piercing tseet and or tsip and a nasal, gnatcatcher-like chaa or naaa or whaaa

The Purple Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes caeruleus) is a rare and local resident in the lowlands and foothills of Central/Southern America. Like the Shining Honeycreeper, it is identified by its yellow legs. Males and females closely resemble the Shining Honeycreeper, but watchers can note a more restricted black throat in males. Females, meanwhile, are more extensively streaked below and have green nape and crown. They canopy in the edge of human broadleaf forests, or shaded plantations. They live in pairs or small groups. Their call is a high pitched, lisping zzree or a long, slurred ssseup.

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central Americais an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Dale Dyer on the Art of Illustrating Field Guides

I’ve been drawing and painting birds for books for about 25 years now. It seems like a long time, but it took me a while to get there. When I was a kid, Don Eckelberry was my hero – he was the illustrator for the Audubon Field Guide and the Guide to Birds of the West Indies by James Bond (real, not fictional) – and my dream was to become a bird illustrator. By the time I went to art school, however, I was enthralled by the great painting of the past and was determined to find a way to make great art in the present. Birdwatching and bird drawing were set aside. Perhaps the accompanying studio self-portrait (left) shows the ambition and angst associated with that preoccupation.

I eventually found myself back in the woods, the shore and the mudflats with my binoculars anyway. More than expressing myself, I wanted to express something about the world. I started to teach myself the birds by drawing them.

I’m interested in communicating not only the experience of an encounter with nature, but also a scientific understanding of it. Though I have no formal training in ornithology, I have always had a serious interest in taxonomy and biodiversity. I am currently a Field Associate of the Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and have been working in that collection for fifteen years. That is an education in of itself, and I have had the privilege of meeting and talking with ornithologists from all over the world.

A field guide is a portrait of the biodiversity of a region. When the illustrations are designed well, and combined with accurate range maps, biogeographic patterns emerge with special clarity. Thorough review of bird specimens from across Central America, as well as a review of ornithological literature, is what gives me an understanding of what needs to be said, and inspires me to get to the drawing board.

The only way to study geographic variation in a species is by placing specimens from far apart places side by side. A great collection like that at the AMNH gives one an opportunity to study species and species relationships in a way that watching birds in the field can not. Nevertheless, it necessary to combine field experience with museum experience to create a vivid and accurate image of a species.

Over the ten-year course of working on Birds of Central America, I traveled nearly every year. I wish it could have be more – some of my experience with a species feels like just a little taste, and there are quite a few species in the book that I have never seen. Bird illustration, however, requires not only observation and reproduction skills, but research and re-creation skills. I’d love to see them all, but work which requires a lifetime of preparation never gets done. Painting a book requires a tremendous amount of time just sitting in your chair working.

Leafing through a field guide gives one a sense of what exists, what is fragile, what needs to be preserved, and also fills the traveling birder with an excitement in anticipation of what they may encounter. I like making art for books because books are affordable, accessible to all, and because I know how intently birders look at the pictures. No one painting for gallery exhibitions can depend on the kind of focused attention to their work that I get.

 

Dale Dyer  is an ornithological illustrator who has contributed to many books on birds, including Birds of Peru and All the Birds of North America. Dyer, along with his co-author Andrew C. Vallely, are currently field associates in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Bird Fact Friday— Oilbird and Potoos

Adapted from pages 80-81 Birds of Central America:

Drawings of Potoos and Oilbirds (bottom right corner). Art by Dale Dyer.

The Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) is a large, nocturnal, frugivorous bird with no close relatives. Found in Central and Southern America, these poorly known birds are perhaps a rare vagrant or local resident. Their breeding habits are unknown in Central America. These distinctive, large, and long-tailed birds are nocturnal, and frequently live in large caves in humid forested regions. They often appear “front heavy” as it perches with its head held awkwardly below the body. They primarily feed on palm fruits. Their call is a repeated, dry, clicking sound (chk-chk chk). 

Meanwhile, Potoos are large nocturnall birds that are remarkably cryptic as they perch motionless, with eyes closed, on their day roosts. Their loud, eerie nocturnal vocalizations are often the best clue to their presence. Northern Potoos (Nyctibius jamaicensis) are identifiable by their large yellow eyes, broad mouths, and small bills. Meanwhile, the Common Potoo also has large yellow eyes, but usually shows a long, narrow, blackish malar and irregular band of blackish spots on their breast. Finally, the Great Potoo is paler than other potoos, with very fine, sparse, dusky barring and vermiculations. 

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central America is an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Galápagos: Animals Interacting

Adapted from pages 172-183 of Galápagos: Life in Motion:

Alpha male Galápagos Sea Lion patrolling his beach, Fernandina Island. Photo credit: Walter Perez.

Galápagos animals strive to cope with their harsh environment. This often means struggling to find food when it is scarce, hiding from predators, and finding a mate. But much of the life of an animal involves dealing with other animals. Sometimes it is necessary to fight, but sometimes play is welcome. Some animals depend on each other through various cooperative mutualisms, while other curious animals keep a careful eye on the humans who have recently arrived in their environments. Animals are intimately part of each other’s environments, and no examination of animal behavior would be complete without understanding these relationships.

One of the most dramatic interactions among Galápagos animals is fighting—for territory, access to mates, or food. Iguanas are territorial and fight to protect their territory, and their mating success is tied to the quality of the territory they hold. Many instances of fighting ultimately are about mating. Although Waved Albatrosses form mating pairs, additional copulation is common and often a source of skirmishes. Similarly, large male Galápagos Sea Lions will protect their beaches for weeks at a time, preventing other males from gaining sexual access to females.

In the most barren and dry parts of the Galápagos, access to preferred nesting and feeding grounds can mean the difference between successfully raising offspring or not. There are often spirited disagreements over who can lay their eggs and who can feed in a given location. Not every interaction between animals is brutal, however. Galápagos animals play with members of their own species, with other animals, and even with plants and sticks.

Galápagos: Life in Motion
by Walter Perez & Michael Weisberg

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

Watch male Marine Iguanas fight over territory and females; see frigatebirds steal food and nesting materials from other birds; witness the courtship dance of a pair of Blue-footed Boobies; go underwater to glimpse a Galápagos Sea Lion pup playing with its mother; and observe a baby Pacific Green Turtle enter the water for the first time. These and dozens of other unforgettable senes are all vividly captured here—including many moments that even experienced Galápagos observers may never be lucky enough to see in person.

Complete with a brief text that provides essential context, this book will be cherished by Galápagos visitors and anyone else who wants to see incredible animals on the move.

Bird Fact Friday—Tinamous

Adapted from pages 28-29 of Birds of Central America:

Drawings of the Great Tinamou (top 4 birds), and the Highland Tinamou (bottom two birds).

Tinamous are short-tailed, terrestrial birds, found mainly in humid broadleaf forest. They are sensitive to hunting pressure and can be difficult to see as they quickly walk away at the approach of an observer. In less humid areas, tinamous can sometimes be located by the scratching sound produced as they walk over dry leaf litter. Most are detected by voice.

The Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) is the most common and widespread.  They are 44 cm tall, and are fairly common residents in lowlands and foothills (to 1800 m). These birds can be identified by their gray legs and white throat, mostly brownish barred with dusky on upperparts and flanks, and are grayish below with fine barring on flanks. Most often detected by voice during early morning or dusk, and sometimes calls from elevated roost site. Individuals, pairs, or small groups can be located by listening for rustling sounds produced as they forage or walk in dry leaf litter. Their call is two to four paired, long, tremulous whistles. First note usually slightly lower-pitched and sometimes repeated two or three times. Second note drops in pitch.

Meanwhile, the Highland Tinamou (Nothocercus bonapartei) are uncommon residents in foothills and highlands (above 1200 m). These are fairly large (40cm) birds, with  gray legs, and dark gray crown and sides of head. The birds’ underparts are cinnamon, becoming brightest on throat and belly, and narrowly and sparsely barred with dusky. They have Dark rufous-brown above with fine blackish vermiculations and variable buff spotting on wings. Some have buff spotting extending to rump and mantle. They are, more often than not, solitary or in pairs, secretive and rarely seen. Most often detected by voice , with a call that sounds like a short, hoarse, low-pitched huh-wowr or unh-heer, which it sometimes repeats steadily.

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central America is an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Galápagos: Courtship, Mating, and Birth

Adapted from pages 128-138 of Galápagos: Life in Motion:

Swallow-Tailed Gulls engaging in a courtship ritual, Española Island

From an evolutionary point of view, nothing is more critical than finding a mate, having offspring, and ensuring that those offspring can survive to reproduce. To this most important of activities, Galápagos animals devote enormous time and effort. For some species, courtship and mating have evolved into elaborate rituals involving song, dance, and the exchange of gifts. Others meticulously prepare nests—in the trees, on the rocks, or under the beach— for sheltering their young. For many species, parental care is freely given, sometimes over many years. But for a few unusual species, parental care is just as easily revoked, sentencing offspring to certain death.

Flightless Cormorants engaging in a courtship dance, which continues after mating, Fernandina Island

Galápagos mating rituals can be quite elaborate. Swallow-tailed Gulls pairbond and build nesting platforms out of pieces of coral. Boobies sing, dance, and exchange gifts prior to mating. And the rare Flightless Cormorants engage in a beautiful, synchronized courtship dance both before and after mating.

Blue-Footed Boobies engaging in a courtship dance, North Seymour Island

The birds and reptiles of the Galápagos employ many strategies to protect their eggs and their offspring. Some birds build nests in trees, others on bare rocks. Some nests are built out of leaves and twigs, others out of bits of coral and urchin spikes, and still others are simply large holes under the beach. Once they lay eggs, some parents, like Blue-footed Boobies, keep a close watch on them. Others, like Pacific Green Turtles, leave the eggs and offspring to fend for themselves.

 

Galápagos: Life in Motion
by Walter Perez & Michael Weisberg

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

Watch male Marine Iguanas fight over territory and females; see frigatebirds steal food and nesting materials from other birds; witness the courtship dance of a pair of Blue-footed Boobies; go underwater to glimpse a Galápagos Sea Lion pup playing with its mother; and observe a baby Pacific Green Turtle enter the water for the first time. These and dozens of other unforgettable senes are all vividly captured here—including many moments that even experienced Galápagos observers may never be lucky enough to see in person.

Complete with a brief text that provides essential context, this book will be cherished by Galápagos visitors and anyone else who wants to see incredible animals on the move.

Bird Fact Friday – Finding Birds as an Urban Birder

Adapted from pages 205-206; 220 of How to Be an Urban Birder:

Birds are everywhere, but in order to see them you will need to know where to look and how to search for them. This is certainly the situation in urban areas and is perhaps why so many people shun the idea of there being any birds to be found in our towns and cities. Newbie birders are often overawed when they are out with birders more experienced than themselves, some even doubting their ability to have found any birds had they been on their own. Never worry about things like that, as there will soon come the day when you realize that you know more than you thought you did and have seen far more than you’ve given yourself credit for. Learn at your own pace. No one knows everything, and at one point everybody knew nothing.

Carrion Crows. Photo credit: Gideon Knight

Those birders who seem to see everything and get all the luck have actually had to earn it. They would have invariably spent hours in the field watching over their patches and studying every bird that they happened across. Therein lies the secret of how to become a better birder: getting enough experience in the field. However, this does not mean that you have to be out birding several days a week, as your skills can still be honed as you go about your daily life. The golden rule is always to look closely at every bird you come across, wherever that might be, and to listen to calls and songs to work out what they mean – is it a contact call, song or alarm note? By doing this you will be practicing hand-toeye coordination with your binoculars, learning more about identification and behaviour, picking up on sounds, and generally noticing birds that you may not have done previously. 

Don’t be put off looking at birds for fear of not being able to recognize them. There is not one birder on the planet who can confidently put a name to everything that perches up in front of them. If they say they can, then they are fibbers. I have hung out with some of the best observers in the world and they are all fallible. There is nothing wrong with drawing a blank, as some birds just defy identification. Simply enjoy the experience and try to make as many notes as possible. 

An interesting aspect of this learning curve that is not often talked about is the use of peripheral vision. When you look at a bird, also look around it at the same time, and train yourself to be alert to movement at the edges of your visual range. In this way you may notice the Sparrowhawk buzzing the extreme end of the Starling flock you were focused on, or spot the Snipe feeding unobtrusively in the wet meadow near the Moorhen that you were admiring. When you watch a bird such as a Buzzard passing overhead use your peripheral vision to locate any other birds soaring with it. Soon you will be noticing movement from the corner of your eye far more regularly.

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

 

Galápagos: Iconic Animals

Adapted from pages 94-117 of Galápagos:

Male dome-shaped Galápagos
Tortoise in the highlands of
Santa Cruz Island

Although Galápagos: Life in Motion is primarily organized by types of habitats and behaviors, several animal species or groups are so iconic and representative of the Galápagos that they call out for special recognition: Galápagos Tortoises, mockingbirds, finches, and boobies. Beyond being visually striking, each of these types of animal has played an important role in shaping evolutionary theory, both in Darwin’s time and in our own.

The Galápagos Tortoises are perhaps the most iconic of Galápagos animals. Widespread among many of the islands, these massive grazing reptiles fi ll many of the same niches that herbivorous mammals fill on the mainland. Depending on their source of food, Galápagos Tortoise carapaces (the upper part of the shell) are said to be dome-shaped, saddleback-shaped, or intermediate in shape. Domed tortoises have rounded carapaces, shaped something like a helmet. The scales around their necks (the cervical scales) are pointed forward and downward, giving them easy access to food on the ground.

San Cristóbal Mockingbird on San Cristóbal Island

Mockingbirds are what “first thoroughly aroused” Darwin’s attention about the distribution of species on the archipelago, according to his book The Voyage of the Beagle. At first, he simply noticed that the mockingbirds in the Galápagos Islands differed from those from mainland South America. Later, he came to appreciate that the mockingbirds on different islands looked different from one another. How could islands so close together have similar birds with different morphologies? Darwin came to see this as what we now call adaptive radiation, in which natural selection shapes different populations of the same type of animal to the particular environments in which they live.

Male and female Small Tree Finches displaying full breeding plumage, highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

For many people, the Galápagos is synonymous with Darwin’s finches—the species of ground, tree, and warbler finches that are part of the subfamily Geospizinae. Although Darwin himself did not at first appreciate their significance, they represent a remarkable instance of adaptive radiation and are frequently used as an example of the phenomenon in biology textbooks. The most significant differences among the finches are in their beak size and shape. These differences allow them to eat different kinds of food: small soft seeds, large hard seeds, insects buried in the bark of trees, and so forth. They have also provided scientists with one of the most detailed studies of evolution in action. Over 40 years, scientists Rosemary and Peter Grant have closely observed the Medium Ground Finch and the Cactus Finch of Daphne Major Island, showing how changing climatic conditions led to small changes in the size and shape of the beaks of these birds.

A very rare observation of a Blue-Footed Booby with three eggs (they normally lay two), Punta Pitt, San Cristóbal Island

Unlike Galápagos Tortoises, finches, and mockingbirds, boobies are not endemic to the Galápagos; they are found in other places. But like the other animals, they display a remarkable set of behavioral adaptations that are particularly evident in the Galápagos. Blue-footed Boobies live in flat open areas, and they fish by diving into the water near the coastline. Red-footed Boobies nest in the branches of trees and fi sh far off shore. And Nazca Boobies live on cliffs and fish in areas between the islands.

Galápagos: Life in Motion
by Walter Perez & Michael Weisberg

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

Watch male Marine Iguanas fight over territory and females; see frigatebirds steal food and nesting materials from other birds; witness the courtship dance of a pair of Blue-footed Boobies; go underwater to glimpse a Galápagos Sea Lion pup playing with its mother; and observe a baby Pacific Green Turtle enter the water for the first time. These and dozens of other unforgettable senes are all vividly captured here—including many moments that even experienced Galápagos observers may never be lucky enough to see in person.

Complete with a brief text that provides essential context, this book will be cherished by Galápagos visitors and anyone else who wants to see incredible animals on the move.

Bird Fact Friday – Southern Lapwing

This shorebird is a common and widespread species along the banks of lakes and rivers as well as open grassland habitats throughout South America. It has benefited from the clearance of forests for cattle ranching and in some areas is very much an urban bird. Indeed, they can even be watched feeding on floodlit football pitches during televised games. I have spent much time watching these charismatic birds on the urban fields of Sāo Paulo in Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile.

Photo credit: David Lindo.

Southern Lapwings is part of the Vanellus genus of waders, to which the Northern Lapwing belongs, and is one of three to be found in South America. The other species are the Pied Plover and Andean Lapwing. Although all three are fairly distinctive, the Southern Lapwing is the only one with a crest. Normally monogamous, in high density areas they may indulge in co-operative breeding. It is the only shorebird in the world where adults of the same sex have been found caring for eggs and young.

 

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

David Bainbridge on Stripped Bare

For more than two thousand years, comparative anatomy—the study of anatomical variation among different animal species—has been used to make arguments in natural philosophy, reinforce religious dogma, and remind us of our own mortality. This stunningly illustrated compendium traces the intertwined intellectual and artistic histories of comparative anatomy from antiquity to today.

Stripped Bare brings together some of the most arresting images ever produced, from the earliest studies of animal form to the technicolor art of computer-generated anatomies. David Bainbridge draws on representative illustrations from different eras to discuss the philosophical, scientific, and artistic milieus from which they emerged. He vividly describes the unique aesthetics of each phase of anatomical endeavor, providing new insights into the exquisite anatomical drawings of Leonardo and Albrecht Dürer in the era before printing, Jean Héroard’s cutting and cataloging of the horse during the age of Louis XIII, the exotic pictorial menageries of the Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, anatomical illustrations from Charles Darwin’s voyages, the lavish symmetries of Ernst Haeckel’s prints, and much, much more.

Why The Art of Animal Anatomy?

Although my day job is teaching anatomy to veterinary students, it has taken me until my seventh book to write about it. All my other books have been about how very strange and unusual human biology is when compared to animals, but this time I thought I’d try something different. Animal structure has been a central artistic element since early humans were painting on cave walls, and I wanted to write a book that reflects how much it has permeated our artistic culture. To do this, the format had to be right – everything else I’ve written has been very text-heavy, but Stripped Bare had to let the images speak for themselves. I did have to weave it into a narrative, but just as important is the quality of the reproductions. Enormous effort and skill went into them, so we wanted to do them justice.

Has the artistic side of science always interested you?

I’ve always found that some of the most interesting aspects of science are when it interacts with language, culture and the arts. Right back when I was slogging through my science subjects to get into vet school, I was also lucky enough to be able to take a two-year course in Art History. I suppose that’s where I learnt the language – knowing my Cubists from my Fauvists, and so on – but also understood for the first time the very real ways that changes in the visual arts reflect, and are reflected by, changes in thought and society. It didn’t take long for me to realise that animal anatomy is not only depicted for its own practical sake, but has also become an eerie, visceral motif to which artists have returned again and again. It has the power to both shock and inspire, and often that’s just too good for artists to ignore.

So how important is it to be familiar with anatomy and art history to enjoy the book?

Not at all, I would say. I assumed nothing of the reader, other than an intelligent inquisitiveness. Comparative anatomy is so much more interesting than seeing the striking ways in which a human, a flamingo and a trout differ, and are similar. It’s a story which almost writes itself. In the book, I tried to highlight what I think are fascinating snippets of the science, but anatomy is a huge topic, and I couldn’t assume any prior knowledge of it. I guess I assumed slightly more foreknowledge of art history, but still not much. A general sense of the flow of the centuries and movements is beneficial, but that’s all. And if readers are teased into finding out more about Futurism or Hyperrealism, then that’s great.

Who is the most important character in the book?

It would have to be Carlo Ruini, an anatomist from Bologna who wrote the remarkable 1598 Anatomia del Cavallo (Anatomy of the Horse), what I like to think of as the Principia Mathematica of comparative anatomy. Before the Anatomia anatomical writings just looked ancient – rare, error-strewn, unscientific, fragmentary, and worst of all, often unillustrated. In contrast, for all its four centuries of existence, Ruini’s book looks recognisably modern: structured, enquiring and detailed. For example, Ruini discovered the one-way nature of the valves of the heart, an important component of later discoveries of the circulation of the blood. The anatomical precision in the book is amazing, especially as it seems to have sprung into existence as if from from nowhere, but most striking is its artistic beauty. There are hundreds of meticulous wood-block engravings, capturing not just the science of the animals’ structure, but also the emotional visual impact of gnarled bones, contorted intestines and convoluted brains. Most of all, the animals retain a remarkable dignity, despite their progressive ‘disrobing’ – they stand proud, or even sometimes trot gaily through renaissance landscapes.

And which artist brings you the most pleasure?

It would have to be Georgia O’Keeffe. In many ways she’s at the other end of the spectrum. Ruini’s book was a practical, scientific book, whereas O’Keeffe uses animal bones solely as elements, often central elements, in her compositions. Just like her paintings of libidinous flowers, her depictions of animal bones allowed her to explain her own feelings about her adopted environment in the American Southwest. Bleached skulls become the central band in the American red, white and blue, while a crumbling pelvis on the desert floor becomes a grand, eroded rock arch framing the distant sierra. I believe that the use of the dusty white skull as a symbol of the desert states (think of an Eagles album cover!) can be traced directly back to O’Keeffe’s decision to place them centre-stage in her compositions.

Has the art of animal anatomy run its course, do you think?

Not at all. If anything, there’s more happening now than ever before. Over recent decades it has become clear that biology is bewilderingly complex and detailed, and one of the major challenges we face is explaining and depicting the new superabundance of information in a comprehensible way. As soon as a neuroscientist generates a scan of the internal nervous pathways of the brain, they have to make artistic – yes, artistic – decisions, if they are to intelligibly represent the tangled and cascading neural superhighways they’ve discovered. Modern, computer-generated diagrams of animal structure and biology are usually beautiful, and always striking. Animal anatomy has even made its way into modern street art. One of the most inspiring images in the book is of a dog’s skull, spay-painted freehand apparently, by the artist SHOK1, onto a building-site hoarding in Walthamstow, North London. It’s one of the most anatomically accurate depictions in the book, a true memento mori for the modern age. The pace of anatomical art is hastening, not slowing – I’m sure there is much more to come.

 

David Bainbridge is University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist at the University of Cambridge. His books include Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape and Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey through Your Brain.