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Abhijit Menon-Sen

By Mehran Zaidi
Scholastic India, 2006, pp. 118, Rs. 175.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 11 November 2006

It’s easy to review a field guide: does it cover all of the 1200-or-so species in India? Does it have good illustrations? Are the differences between Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits accurately represented? What are the descriptions like? Are the latest taxonomic changes incorporated? That there are fewer than half a dozen comprehensive field guides to the region doesn’t hurt either. They’re familiar territory.   But this book isn’t a field guide, and it sidesteps familiar questions in its focus on beginning bird-watchers, who usually have to make do with a field guide that assumes more experience than they have. Fewer than a hundred species are covered, in five groups: birds around your house (like Sparrows and Mynas), birds in city parks (Koel, Kite), birds in open areas (Kingfisher, Robin), birds in forests (Woodpecker, Hornbill), and water birds (Sarus, Egrets). There’s a small section on endangered birds tacked on at the end, and resident and migratory species are differentiated throughout.   Each bird is described on a single page (for the most part; some entries spill into the next page), with the size in centimetres, a selection of “Indian Names”, the scientific name, a summary of food habits, the call, habitat, and distribution followed by a brief illustrated description. For vulnerable species, a “risk meter” tells you how close the bird is to extinction. It’s disappointing that the author chose to express size in centimetres, a measure which won’t mean much to beginners, and is difficult even for experienced observers to judge in the field. Salim Ali’s “Myna , Crow-” scale would have been so much more expressive and appropriate here. The distribution information is fairly useless too: only four out of about ninety entries say anything other than “widespread”.   The habitat and call descriptions are concise and accurate, however, and it’s nice to have a précis of the food habits and Indian names (often in Hindi, Bangla, and Malayalam, though not always), which are usually left out in pocket field guides. What birds eat, in particular, is something that many people are curious about, and having an answer makes feeding behaviour more explicable and more interesting to observe.   The illustrations would have disappointed me if this were a field guide; and they did, at first, until I realized that the selected species are mostly very distinctive, and that minor errors in ...

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