July 3, 2011

Everything you need to know about birds in Kansas

This is not a pocket field guide. At 5½-pounds, it weighs more than about 453 of the 473 bird species it covers.

This is not a pocket field guide.

At 5½-pounds, it weighs more than about 453 of the 473 bird species it covers.

Birds of Kansas’ 20-inch wing-span is wider than that of any thrush, sparrow, warbler, hummingbird, gnatcatcher, flycatcher mentioned and would give about any bird of the goatsucker family a run for their money, too.

And even if you lugged the guide book afield it wouldn't do you much good.

Other than a photo, it offers nothing to help identify birds.

At home, though, the 544-page monster will tell you almost everything else you could want to know about the birds of Kansas.

There's a page dedicated to every species ever documented in Kansas.

There are detailed records of where each species has been sighted and where nesting has been documented.

Records of birds banded for scientific research are also detailed.

The book's a beast in physical size, but it's dwarfed by the information within.

According to Bob Gress, one of the authors and photographers, this is a long overdue update to two similar books by Max Thompson and Charles Ely in about 1989 and 1992.

A lot has changed in the Kansas bird world. We've recorded more than 45 new species in that time.

Some that were considered endangered back then, like bald eagles, are now pretty common.

Some that were common back then, like southern Flint Hills greater prairie chickens, are now pretty rare.

Thompson, a retired biology professor and nationally-known ornithologist from Winfield, rightfully led the work on the recent volume of The Birds of Kansas.

He enlisted the aid of Ely, Gress, Chuck Otte, Sebastian Patti, David Seibel and Eugene Young. That's an all-star team of Kansas birding.

Each species has its own page.

Information includes how commonly they're found in Kansas, preferred habitat, migration details, general comments and information on banding.

A special section at the back of the book goes into greater detail about some of the most frequently banded species.

I'm very much a facts and figures geek, especially with wildlife. I like to read the fine print and find out what percentage of banded birds have later been recovered.

It's also amazing to me how far off course some individual birds may vary.

Birds of the Kansas prairie may show up on one coast or the other . . . or in Russia.

It's just as interesting to look at something like a spotted redshank, a bird of Eurasia that once showed up at Perry Lake in eastern Kansas.

Being an avid waterfowl hunter, I really studied the records of ducks and geese banded in Kansas.

The historical records fascinate me, too.

One highlight of thumbing through the book was reading eyewitness accounts of colorful Carolina parakeets, now extinct, in the mid-1800s around Fall River.

Real oddities also caught my attention, like roseate spoonbills and American flamingos.

Plastic and on Kansas lawns, yes. In a field in Glen Elder Lake, what?

The book carries a price of $39.95 — that's much more than I've ever spent on a book.

That all royalties go to the Kansas Ornithological Society takes away a lot of sting.

Pound for pound, in size and content, I guess it's a pretty good buy.

"Birds of Kansas" by Max Thompson, Charles Ely, Bob Gress, Chuck Otte, Sebastian Patti, David Seibel and Eugene Young, University Press of Kansas, 544 pages, $39.95

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