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Review: Birds of India

February 20, 2012
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As much as I’d love to, I’m not likely to ever go to India.  The world’s most densely populated nation is just a bit too far away to make it feasible. That doesn’t mean I can’t flip though field guides for those far-flung nations with an appreciation for the work that goes into creating a top notch guide for a nation whose birdlife is as diverse as India.  This country of over a billion people also has an impressive list of nearly 1400 species including some real tropical lookers, but with the expected old world mix of cryptic warblers, Aquila eagles and pipits that offer loads of identification difficulties for the prospective subcontinental birder.  A guide to India has a lot of ground to cover, and with a growing cadre of local birders as part of an increasing middle class in the country, it’s as apt to be used as extensively by Indians as by visitors to India, which makes it doubly important that it’s right.

Princeton University Press adds to its catalog of nearly uniformly excellent international guides with the second edition of Birds of India by Richard Grimmet and the Inskips, Carol and Tim, perhaps better called Birds of the Indian Subcontinent as it includes Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives as well as the title country.   I never saw the first edition, but according to PUP’s website it was one of those tropical guides in the frustrating format with maps and species accounts separate from the plates.  The new edition fixes this formatting error, placing birds and maps across each other in what has now become the standard field guide arrangement.  The new guide loses a bit in informational heft, but more than makes up for it in ease of use, important for any field guide where birders are presented with a dizzying array of birds.

Maps are clear and concise, showing national boundaries and all state boundaries for Indian states.  The colors are a little rich, and often cover those boundaries in those species with broad distributions, but summer, winter, and resident ranges are easily determined.  The illustrations seem true to life to me and, especially notable for a book with multiple illustrators, the different styles of the artists are not at all distracting.  Worth special acknowledgement are the raptor plates, which are especially busy, showing the birds perched and in flight from multiple angles.  For a group as confusing and diverse as Aquila eagles this is an especially nice touch.  Other family groups worth noting for their excellent and fun representation include owls, sunbirds, and pheasants, a particularly gorgeous group of birds on the subcontinent.

Both local and visiting birders have a lot to look forward to in this guide, but you’d expect nothing less from Princeton University Press.  There are only a few options for those wishing to bird India, they’re certainly fortunate that the one that’s available is of such uniformly high quality.

Thanks to Princeton University Press for providing me with a review copy

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  1. Review Roundup: February, 2012

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