Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Review: Birds in Minnesota

Birds in Minnesota. Robert Janssen. University of Minnesota Press. 2020. 584 pp. Softbound. $34.95. ($30.93 when clicking here.)

This book is essential for all but the most casual of birders. The book is a compendium of dates and distributions of Minnesota birds, including an appendix with first and last dates of seasonal occurrences. The book, however, is not for those birders interested in learning identification or behavior of Minnesota birds. Not even brief species accounts are to be found about habitat, ecology, behavior, or keys to identification. 

To my mind, this book presents a number of quirks. The first is authorship. The cover indicates this tome is the revised and expanded edition by Robert Janssen. The title page credits Janssen along with David Cahlander. Kim Eckert wrote the introduction and Carroll Henderson contributed a preface.

I find the book’s design somewhat odd. The font size is unusually small. The graphs of north and south state abundance are color-coded, with the curve for northern abundance being red.  Red is a color that should be avoided in deference to color-blind people. An infrequent species curve is sometimes obscured against the horizontal axis.

Single photographs accompany most common species, but the photo sizes are not uniform. Although it is obvious what species is shown, each photo has a species name below it, but no photographer citation. You must to go to the back of the book for that. The photos are a bit unnecessary, since only common birds are included. Images of Minnesota’s rare and casual species would have been of more value to the reader. The photos are of excellent quality, except, in my opinion, for the cover. The cover is a striking image of a Three-toed Woodpecker, but the bird is not a crisp contrast to the background. A black and gray bird against a gray background is hardly an image to jump out at a prospective purchaser. (The image above is actually a bit better than on my copy of the book.)

Range maps are illustrated in green, with the shade of green indicating abundance for each county. Tiny black dots indicte breeding within the county or where very rare birds were seen. You have to look very closely to see dots on the state line at Duluth. Whole counties are shaded in, which is misleading if birds are found only in partial areas of the county in question. As many as four maps occur in the account margins, for each of the seasons. Common, statewide, resident species have identical maps for spring and fall. These could be combined. Finally, a little island sometimes occurs to the right of the map—Twin Cities metro counties?

Despite these quirks, I highly recommend this narrowly focused book for serious birders. The information is useful and appears to be accurate.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting review of my book, I have many comments about your "quirks" but I will only comment one. It seems to me you did not read the Preface The purpose of this book is to keep up the legacy of Dr. Thomas Sadler Roberts that he started in 1932. That is to keep up the historical data on the distribution of Minnesota birds. There was no need to talk about bird identification, bird habits etc. which are covered in field guides and the thousands of other books on birds. The soul purpose of this book was to keep of the record of the geographical distribution of the birds of Minnesota. By the way the reason photos of many of the rare birds of Minnesota were not shown is because we didn't have satisfactory photos of these species to reproduce in the book. All photos were taken in Minnesota by Minnesota photographers. Thanks for taking the time to review the book. Bob Janssen