Review: The Atlas of Birds by Mike Unwin

I just received a review copy of The Atlas of Birds: diversity, behavior, and conservation by Mike Unwin. My first thought when I pulled the book out of the mailing envelope was, wow, this thing looks really sharp. This is definitely a glossy, coffee table style book and the layout with photos and maps are dazzling from cover to cover. Placing a Green-headed tanager, European bee-eater, and Painted bunting on the cover is a bold move and could easily come across as gaudy, but, like the rest of the book, the layout is so appealing that it in no way appears garish. I think that the photos only lend to draw the reader in and explore what the book has to offer. I have included some examples of the pages but in truth, these examples hardly do justice to how nice this book is.

Mike Unwin takes the approach that every aspect of birds can be fascinating to anyone if presented in an appealing manner. In a mere 144 pages, Unwin manages to cover just about every aspect of bird species around the world. Unwin starts us off with a brief description of what makes birds unique i.e. feathers, hollow bones etc. He then moves on to cover habitats that birds use, discussing unique habitats that are found on each continent and how the birds interact with them. The brilliant part of his layout is that each 2 page spread consists of a concise overview of the topic on the left page and then case studies, examples, maps and photos on the right page relating to and expanding on that topic.

Bird taxonony basics

Unwin next moves on to the different bird orders, explaining the features that makes them unique, showing examples as well as the global distribution of the order. The one thing that really impressed me was the global aspect of the book; birds were featured from across the globe and I didn’t detect a bias to any particular region. There should be plenty in this book to interest readers no matter where they live.

2-page spread on Passerines

In part four, the biological aspect of birds is discussing, covering topics such as migration, flashy plumages, flocking behavior, and hunting/foraging techniques. For me this was an interesting section of the book because it describes behaviors and why birds are doing certain things. This section built nicely on what Unwin wrote about in previous sections. The Atlas of Birds does a fantastic job of giving a brief summary of a topic, but also providing enough information to inform you in a way that you could go on and look up other resources and feel like you have a good basic grasp on the subject.

Ratites and Tinamous

Part five covers the intersection between birds and humans. Of course this starts of with birds as food, because who hasn’t eaten an egg or chicken at some point. Other topics include cage birds, cultural importance, using them as indicators of biodiversity, human conflicts with birds as well as the enjoyment people get from watching birds.

The last two parts cover the threats that birds are facing and things that are being done to protect them. This is an excellent way to end the book and wrap up all the knowledge that Unwin has presented in the previous sections. I think he provides a nice positive spin on conservation issues and our ability go out and protect the species at risk.

Description and distribution of the trogons

Overall I think that this is a fantastic book. It contains way more information than you would expect from a book that is so full of photos and graphics. I particularly like how Unwin incorporated so many graphics to visually illustrate the points he is trying to make. I think you could probably get as much out of the book just reading captions and graphs as you would reading through the text.

Pick up a copy of The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation from Amazon today!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Princeton University Press.