10000birds.com - Review

Original review at: http://10000birds.com/review-american-bird-conservancy-guide-to-bird-conservation.htm

Review: American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation

By Charlie November 9, 2010 5 comments

American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird ConservationI suppose before I review this book I should declare an interest: I am passionately interested in conservation. And perhaps I should also issue a warning: warning - there are superlatives ahead!

Okay, so - ‘The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation’ (’ABC Guide’): over 400 pages, beautifully presented by The University of Chicago Press and Lynx Edicions, and authored by three professional conservationist powerhouses: George Fenwick (ABC President); Mike Parr (ABC Vice-President); and Daniel Lebbin, (ABC conservation biologist, photographer, and highly-regarded field researcher).

Described on the ABC website as presenting “a roadmap for conserving birds in the Americas over coming decades”, the ABC are advertising their new book widely and are obviously staking a great deal on it being both a major statement of intent for the organisation and a major commercial success.


Have they succeeded? Absolutely.

According to the blurb on the back cover of this book, the ABC Guide:

  • Details all 212 WatchList species, including Hawaiian species, with colour illustrations
  • Includes range maps with global and year-round ranges
  • Contains descriptions and graphic depictions of twelve U.S. “Birdscapes”
  • Offers the first comprehensive status and threat analysis for U.S. bird habitats
  • Details 50 top bird sites
  • Includes information on international bird conservation, including migrants and endemic species
  • Contains a complete analysis of human causes of bird mortality and their impacts
  • Suggests what you can do to help bird conservation
  • Provides state-by-state bird conservation priorities

A remarkable list of attributes - but what that rather dry and concise bullet list doesn’t tell you is that this book is stunningly beautiful, packed to the gills with hundreds of exquisite photographs and paintings, and - above all else - is perhaps the most accessible and ‘reader-friendly’ book on conservation I’ve ever seen. I don’t usually like using the words ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘important’ (both are highly over-used), but there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this beautiful and comprehensive book is both groundbreaking and important.


American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation

There will be plenty of reviews coming out that will go into detail about the ‘ABC Guide’s content and its science, that may probably find the odd mistake or want to argue with one or two of its conclusions (the only typo I’ve noted so far is a sentence about the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill that’s been printed twice - I would guess that the book was at the final printing stage when the disaster occurred and was inserted via a last-minute phone call!), but I’ve taken a conscious decision to write more about the emotional impact this book had on me, because I found it incredibly exciting from the moment I opened it. Conservation (a subject which I did warn you I tend to get a little excited about) has desperately needed a book that can reach out to a broad spectrum of people, one that can be picked up and clearly understood by anyone from a child to a conservation professional. And in my opinion this wonderful new ‘ABC Guide’ is that book.

Let me explain why. I imagine most people are familiar with the phrase ‘the MTV generation’ (if you’re not, it’s a derogatory term supposed to convey a sense of short attention spans, of the need for information to be given in easily-digestible (preferably flashy) packets, of the loss of ability to absorb long pieces of text or complex ideas). Personally I think it’s a stupid and intellectually snobbish term that fails to understand that people’s lives have changed, that most of us do not have time or the desire to wade through an entire book of dense text to find the precise nugget of information we’re looking for, or that we are an intrinsically visual species.

I imagine I’m preaching to the choir here on 10,000 Birds but conservation and the big ideas that it encompasses can not be the sole domain of university graduates or researchers as it was until relatively recently - it’s far, far too important for that. The continued existence of many species of birds on this planet will increasingly depend on conservation becoming an everyday part of our lives, and to save them (and so many other threatened forms of life) the sweeping vision of conservation, the inspiring projects and campaigns, must be re-packaged so that they’re accessible and engaging. Conservation’s problems and aims must be presented in ways that are easy to understand, and not so laden with jargon and tables of data that an average member of the public will never get far enough down the page to discover the solutions.

Assuming the people at the top of the American Bird Conservancy feel the same way, just how might someone as smart as George Fenwick, Mike Parr, and Daniel Lebbin go about achieving all that? Perhaps by producing a beautifully illustrated, richly colourful and vibrant book where all the information is presented in short, highly-readable ‘articles’ a few pages long at most? If I were as smart as they were that’s what I’d try and do anyway…

And I’m pretty sure that’s what they had in mind, because this is exactly where the ‘ABC Guide’ triumphs. Technically speaking the ‘ABC Guide’ is “a classification system and threat analysis” but in essence and style it is a collection of short, focussed articles on the birds of the Americas and the myriad problems they face that follow a simple structure of ‘Subject - Threat - Solution’. They are written by very knowledgeable and committed conservationists on a mission to explain and involve, and there is a huge amount of relevant and up-to-date information inside its pages (the data is mostly from before 2008, which is about what you’d expect for a book that needs to be scientifically robust rather than padded with more current anecdotal ‘evidence’). It’s all presented in such a way that it’s hard to imagine anyone opening the book feeling out of their depth, and it struck me as I leafed through it that if I’d been given a book like this when I was growing up I would never have put it down. Actually, I don’t want to put it down now, come to think of it.


I said at the beginning of this review that the ‘ABC Guide’ excited me. I hope regular readers of this blog will know me well enough to know that - agree with me or not - I am at least honest and if there’s a potential conflict of interest I will declare it. I’ll say right now, then, that Mike Parr has offered to do a ‘Talking Naturally’ podcast with me in the near future - but that in no way has affected my view of this book. It IS a tremendously exciting publication. It IS groundbreaking, especially in the way that conservation of this scope and magnitude is being marketed: BirdLife International will rightly say that the design blueprint for the ‘ABC Guide’ was laid out in their A3 format IBA guides and ‘work manuals’ like the superb ‘Saving Asia’s Threatened Birds‘ (which was published in 2003), but BirdLife don’t seem to me to have ever tried to reach out to such a wide audience. I might be wrong, but perhaps they thought that birders/laypeople wouldn’t be interested in works with such focussed attention on ‘problems and solutions’? They may well have been right, but I’m also hoping that ABC have correctly judged that the public mood has changed and that we’re now ready for a book that is all ‘message’ and fact (without, I should add, being didactic). I certainly am, and I’m convinced that many other people are too.

Once this book has been widely circulated I truly believe that the ‘ABC Guide’ will be recognised as a hugely important document, a statement of intent that is clearly written in everyday language but which is intelligent, informative, and appealing. It has the potential to be an enormously popular book, and hopefully wavering buyers won’t be put off by the ‘Conservation Guide’ title.

I sincerely hope they’re not, and if you or anyone you know has even the slightest interest in conservation and the birds of the Americas (especially any young, budding birder or conservationist you might know who’s imagination and passion needs to be fed before they’re lost to other distractions) you won’t regret buying this superb Guide. And if conservation and birds is already ‘your bag’, then the ‘ABC Guide’ is going to be a fantastic addition to your library.


American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation

The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation
Foreword by Jonathan Franzen
456 pages, 600 color plates
6-3/10″ x 9″
ISBN: 9780226647272
Published November 2010


The book was funded by a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation and is published by The University of Chicago Press and Lynx Edicions. It is available through most online book sellers and book retailers.