Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior Vol. 1 by Donald Stokes

Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior Vol. 1 by Donald Stokes. Boston. Little, Brown and Company. 1979. 336pp. ISBN: 0-316-81725-2

Behavior is what real naturalists want to understand in the animals they are studying. Having the resources to go to Costa Rica or the Galapagos in order to witness a bird found nowhere else is more a field for dilettantes. Knowing the behaviors of a few birds is far more interesting than having a blurred photo of some exotic Amazonian bird to show off to friends.

Lyandra Haupt in her book about backyard birds makes this point well. Having the largest “Life” bird list is a little like collecting the most baseball cards every summer. This notion of understanding behaviors makes a volume like this one particularly interesting to this bird watcher.  

It begins with an overview of key things to look for when out in the field and then focuses on 25 wild birds, all of which can be found along the Atlantic sea board (as well as other places). This was slightly disappointing for my familiarity with these species. Having crossed the nation to re-locate in the Pacific Northwest, there are many new species to get to know and these were not listed in this book. Hopefully when volumes #2 and #3 are found, many of them will be highlighted.

It would be vain and untrue to indicate that the details that Stokes provided in this guide were already known to me. An interest in corvids, a profundity of house sparrows or Canada geese have always made observing them easier. A focused interest in actual behavior also points me towards knowing all my birds better. Stokes’ guide makes that easier.

It is a well-constructed manual meaning that it is both informative and a fluid read. From my own experience both in the field and in reading the literature there was nothing that I could argue with in this presentation.

Yet there is an issue with the age of the volume that I read. It is the 1979 version of the guide. The book is in very good condition suggesting that my copy is not old. In turn this suggests that it has not been updated unless very recently. A book about avian behavior that is 39 years old means that much of the information needs to be refreshed. In the chapter on the American crow for instance, Stokes indicates that there is much we do not know about some of their behaviors. While this is technically accurate, there has been countless articles and books written about crows. There are information sharing internet sites as well. There is always much more to learn but when this book was published there was far less known than today.

At any rate, I found this to be a useful tool and look forward to reading the ensuing volumes.

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