A new two-volume atlas is a spectacular and thorough catalogue of Canada’s northern birds
A new two-volume atlas from UBC Press is a spectacular and thorough catalogue of Nunavut’s birds
At the recent International Ornithological Congress in Vancouver, Tony Gaston, longtime seabird researcher, teared up in front of his spellbound audience while recalling the important contributions of his old friends, many since passed away. My mind wandered back to 1973 when I was a wet-behindthe-ears young ornithologist who had been fortunate enough to have been hired by the late Dalton Muir, then working for the Canadian Wildlife Service. He sent me to study the breeding ecology of a pair of white-morph gyrfalcons on a sandstone cliff not far from Eureka on the Fosheim Peninsula of Ellesmere Island. It was a dream job, and the gyrfalcon has been my favourite bird ever since.
The occasion for Tony’s presentation was the introduction of a brand-new two-volume set entitled Birds of Nunavut that he co-edited with James Richards, for UBC Press. At press time I had not yet had time to read all 810 pages documenting every one of the 295 species of birds that have ever been recorded there (including even the now extinct passenger pigeon). The product of the combined efforts of 18 experts over no less than 300 seasons of fieldwork in Nunavut, the collection is breathtaking. I have seen thousands of bird books in my career, but Birds of Nunavut has to rank among the very top five in terms of presentation and content.
Because Nunavut is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and because it is home to a wide array of exceptionally gorgeous birds, it made perfect sense to accompany articles on everything from identification to conservation with 800 stunning colour photographs taken by experts, as well as 145 range maps. The non-passerine birds — that is, waterfowl, raptors, seabirds, etc. — are covered in the first slightly thicker volume, and the songbirds are featured in the second volume, but the volumes are sold together as one book.
UBC Press and the 18 authors have thought of everything for these two volumes. The first begins with chapters on the ecology and geography of the territory, important and protected areas for birds, the history of ornithology and past, current and future monitoring of birds. There is also, of course, a huge chapter on climate change. A particularly nice touch is a page devoted to the people of Nunavut and the deceased pioneers who studied the birds there.
You do not have to be an ornithologist, an Arctic biologist, a bird-lover at any level or a tourist to need to have these two volumes in your hands and on your library shelf. Anyone with a passing interest in any of the above will find them beautiful, informative and great value. And with climate change on many folks’ lips these days, the timing could not be better to catalogue and record the wide range of Nunavut’s current and historical bird populations. Copies are available in bookstores across Canada, online and directly from the publisher at ubcpress.ca.