A major contribution to regional ornithology is now available.
"Bull's Birds of New York State," edited by Emanuel Levine of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and with a Foreword by Governor George Pataki, has just been published. A copy belongs in the library of every bird watcher in this state, from the beginning feeder-observer to the academic ornithologist. (Wives, husbands and friends of birders take note.)
This is our fifth state bird book. The first, by J. E. DeKay, "Zoology of New York: Part 2, Birds" was published in 1844. Next came E. H. Eaton's two volume, "Birds of New York State" in 1910 and 1914. John Bull wrote "Birds of New York State" in 1974. The final predecessor is the more specialized "Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State," edited by Robert Andrle and J. R. Carroll and published in 1988.
Unlike all but the "Atlas," the new book was written by a formidable team of 77 authors. Seven of them prepared introductory essays about this state's environmental and ornithological history and about the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs under whose aegis the book was developed. These are followed by one to two-page accounts detailing range, status, breeding and nonbreeding information and remarks (but not identification characteristics) about the 451 bird species recorded through early 1997 in this state.
What I find remarkable is the uniformly high quality of each of these brief accounts. They constitute not only a compendium of information but also a collection of interesting insights.
How was this possible with so many writers spread across the state? Obviously through the discipline that was provided by Levine and his associates, Berna and Stanley Lincoln, both Lincolns past Federation presidents.
An underlying theme that arises from many of these accounts is the change in bird populations due to clearing of the countryside for farmland during the 18th and 19th centuries followed in this century by the return of much of that land to forest. The recent good news for woodland birds like pileated woodpecker is equally bad news for grassland birds like vesper and Henslow's sparrows.
It is difficult to choose from among these fine essays but my favorites are Don Windsor's pieces about those lowly urban birds: rock dove, starling and house (a.k.a. English) sparrow. My vote for best remark is Steve Eaton's about how our premier game bird got its name. "The Spanish first introduced the turkey from America into Europe in the early 1500s. From Spain it spread rapidly as a domestic fowl throughout Europe, but knowledge of its place of origin did not. In the Middle Ages nearly everything exotic was obtained in or through Turkish, or Arabian, territories. Even our corn is still known in the Near East as Turkey wheat. There is little doubt that our bird derived its name from the country Turkey."
The number of species recorded in New York has increased over the years but new birds continue to appear. Number 452 - the lovely lazuli bunting that was seen by many local birders at the farm of Don and Virginia Tiede south of Batavia last winter - is the first of those that must wait to appear in the next volume of the series.