The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Monday, October 03, 2005

Book Reviews
Hummingbirds and Chasing Neotropical Birds
BY Ro Wauer

Hummingbirds of Texas and Chasing Neotropical Birds offer the nature reader two super reads! Hummingbirds of Texas, written by three Texas naturalists, Clifford Shackelford, Madge Lindsay, and Mark Klyn, contains up-to-date information about all 18 Texas hummingbirds, along with some excellent photos by Sid and Shirley Rucker and paintings by Clemente Guzman III. This book is generally divided into two sections. The first is full of good information about hummingbird biology; finding hummingbirds; food, water and shelter; feeders; visitors, pests, and predators; overwintering hummingbirds; migratory behavior; and photographing the hummingbirds.

The second section of Hummingbirds of Texas contains a two-page spread on each species that includes identification hints, a range map for Texas as well as adjacent New Mexico and Arizona, and some excellent illustrations. These illustrations include front and back views, including both male and female views when pertinent, and also the tail that can be extremely important for identifying some species. Species include Allen's, Anna's, berylline, black-chinned, blue-throated, broad-billed, broad-tailed, buff-bellied, calliope, Costa's, green violet-ear, green-breated mango, lucifer, magnificent, plain-capped starthroat, ruby-throated, rufous, violet-crowned, and white-eared.

Scattered throughout the text are a variety of comments that any reader will find interesting and useful. Here are a few examples: "Migratory male hummingbirds reach the breeding grounds before the females in order to stake out their claim to the best territory. A hummingbird territory is an amorphous area that ranges in size (often smaller than a football field) and must include ample food sources, which are vigorously defended." "Hummingbirds are polygamous and thus do not form mated pairs. Instead, males attempt to mate with as many females as possible and leave all the nest building and brood rearing to the females." "Spiders are important to adult and nestling hummingbirds in several ways. First, hummingbirds use web fibers as sticky material to hold the nest together. In addition, hummingbirds take prey caught in the web of a spider, and they may also consume spiders and their young or eggs." And finally, "Hummingbirds can be found at cold, high elevations. While roosting through the night, some species of hummingbirds have the ability to slow down their metabolism, which cuts their body temperature in half to conserve energy, a state known as torpor."

Hummingbirds of Texas, published by Texas A&M University Press, is 110 pages and sells for $24.95 in hardback. It is a real bargain for anyone interested in birds, and especially for those of us fascinating by these flying jewels, the hummingbirds.

Chasing Neotropical Birds, by Vera and Bob Thornton, is a very different kind of book, as it highlights the Thornton's efforts of 15 years to photograph a wide variety of neotropical birds in their native habitats south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Besides a vast array of marvelous photographs, the book includes an excellent narrative about their personal adventures while photographing the birds throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America. Many of the bird photographs included in this beautiful book are seldom found in other books of this type.

A few of the most impressive photos, at least for me, included a Baird's trogon, green-crowned brilliant, and three-wattled bellbird from Costa Rica; a tufted coquette from Trinidad; a yellow-tufted woodpecker, speckled tanager, blue-winged mountain-tanager, and golden-tanager from Venezuela; a zigzag heron and toucan barbet from Ecuador; a bicolored antbird and western slaty-antshrike from Panama; a golden-hooded tanager from Honduras; a black jacobin and red-billed scythebill from Brazil; a versicolored barbet from Peru; and a yellow-billed jacamar from Suriname.

The narrative within each chapter includes enough information so that the reader understands the efforts made to capture each of the photos, as well as the details about where the authors traveled on each of their expeditions. This is truly a beautiful book and one that a birder sooner-or-later will want to include in their birding library. Especially for those of us interested in traveling to countries south of the border, it can be a very worthwhile reference. Published by the University of Texas Press, this 160-page hardback, that includes 78 color photos, sells for $34.95. It, as well as the Hummingbirds of Texas, would make for excellent Christmas presents.

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