The Splendor of Birds

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As part of Year of the Bird National Geographic released a book called The Splendor of Birds. It’s supposed to be a reflection of how we notice birds and how that has changed in the last 130 or so odd years. The book incorporates historic photos, illustrations and some amazing images from recent years. I had high hopes for this book, because coffee table books of birds sparked my imagination as a kid of what it would be possible to see one day.

But my overall feeling for it is…meh.

 Albatross photo from 1922 vs 2007—what a difference from manhandling to a habitat shot.

Albatross photo from 1922 vs 2007—what a difference from manhandling to a habitat shot.

It is interesting to see how far we have come in grabbing images of birds both in the form of illustration and photography. I realize that early on bird painting and photography was dominated by men because they had the time and equipment and quite frankly, were the ones allowed to do so, but that’s changed so much in the last two decades.

I had hoped the part of the book that focuses on the last 18 years would incorporate lots of female photographers but…sadly, no. Yes there are a few women that have photos in the book book, but the illustrators are mostly absent. The only female illustrator shown is the 1880s couple Jonathan and Elizabeth Gould co-credited on a bower bird illustration. Counting the 198 contributors in the back revealed that 18 were women (roughly 9%). Which is incredibly disappointing considering that the birding population in the US is over 50% female. But hey, they had some so I shouldn’t complain…

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That’s not to say there aren’t stunning images in this book. There are some beauts and as a strictly “bird porn” type of book it’s nice.

 A bird with broken tail tips and wing feather tips is a sign of stress in captivity. Also I have questions about the toucan. Bird banding typically takes place outside so you see the vegetation in the background. This bird has a white background. Was it put int he nets just for a photo op?

A bird with broken tail tips and wing feather tips is a sign of stress in captivity. Also I have questions about the toucan. Bird banding typically takes place outside so you see the vegetation in the background. This bird has a white background. Was it put int he nets just for a photo op?

There are also many images of captive birds that are washed out in mid-flight. I’ve never been a fan of the method getting a bird frozen in mid flap. The motion is interesting, but the colors are completely faded out from the flash.

So the book is ok. If you’re a kid interested in birds, it might spark your interest to learn more about different species, but overall it’s underwhelming. I wouldn’t go out of my way to give this book as a gift to someone but if I found it at a use book store, I give it a consideration.