Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book of the Week: The Bittern and Bird Identification for the Ornithological Novice


If you find yourself in the mid-United States to northern Canada this time of year, you may be witness to the final days of occupation in this area for Botaurus lentiginosus, the American Bittern. From early May through the summer, the American Bittern spends its breeding months in the Mid-US to northern Canada, occupying nest sites chosen and constructed by the female Bittern of the mating pair. For the duration of the egg-laying period, the female Bittern will lay one egg each morning, with the incubation period lasting 24 to 28 days. Once the mating season ends, the American Bitterns find their way to the south Atlantic coast across the Gulf coast and west to southern California for the duration of the wintering months, although some populations living in regions with milder temperatures appear to actually be non-migratory.

So, if you happen to find yourself in the mid-US this time of year observing a bird that may or may not be the American Bittern, how to you determine, with little to no ornithological training, whether or not what you see is Botaurus lentiginosus? Such a question was of great concern for Reginald Heber Howe, a naturalist focusing on lichens, birds, and dragonflies. With this week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), Howe hoped to present a resource that would be both efficient and useful to beginners in the field of Ornithology. Howe makes this desire perfectly clear in his preface, writing,

"Having long felt that the identification of a bird would be much less difficult to beginners in the Study of Ornithology, if they could have a book in which every genus was illustrated by an accurate outline drawing of the head and foot, with a description of the general plumage void entirely of technical terms, I offer this volume to the bird lover."

And, indeed, on page 116, Howe succinctly describes the key features of the American Bittern, accompanied by a line drawing of the head and foot of the bird. With such a companion, the casual naturalist might have no difficulties identifying this species, or any other bird species, that crosses his or her path. So, take a look at this week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), by Reginald Heber Howe, and if you happen to find yourself crossing paths with an unknown bird species, bring up the title on your mobile device and put your ornithological skills to the test!

Click here to see a list of other titles in the Biodiversity Heritage Library by Reginald Heber Howe.

This week's book of the week, "Every bird;" a guide to the identification of the birds of woodland, beach and ocean (1896), by Reginald Heber Howe, was contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

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