05 August 2013

The Unfeathered Bird

Some of you that knew about this blog ages ago remembered that I used to review a book once in a while.  After an "extensive hiatus", I'm here to revive things a bit with a quick review.

Yes, today I'm looking at "The Unfeathered Bird" by Katrina van Grouw.  It's 304 pages and was published by Princeton University Press in 2013:

I can't think of any better way to start this review other than the simple statement of "You've never seen anything quite like this before".

It's true.  

But first, before I show you any contents, here's the least interesting angle of the book:

As you can see, it's a large-format book but still relatively thin compared to this Sibley Guide.

As you would learn from the Princeton Press website, Katrina van Grouw is a former curator of the ornithological collections at London's Natural History Museum, a taxidermist, and experienced bird bander, a successful fine artist, and a graduate of the Royal College of Art.  Here are a couple of sketches they have up on the website as a nice teaser:

Can you make out what species that was?  Probably not.  It's a Brown Fish Owl.

That one is a bit easier if you're familiar with your birds from overseas.  It's a Great Hornbill.

That bad boy is the skull of a Lappet-faced Vulture.

By now you're probably realizing that this book really is unlike anything you've seen before.  It's filled with hundreds (385 to be exact) of these incredibly intricate sketches of birds in ways you've never seen (or imagined) them illustrated.  That's right, most of the sketches are of only the bones.  Morbid?  Not even close.  Sometimes it's the whole bird, sometimes it's just highlighting a part of the bird.  Here's a quick picture of a page of shorebird skulls.  As someone who studied curlews once upon a time, I was particularly interested in the bottom skull:

They're not ONLY illustrations of bones, however.  Sometimes she illustrates the muscles as in this Great Cormorant:

No, this book isn't necessarily for birders, as you can see.  It doesn't have any arrows pointing to field marks, it isn't something you'd take with you out into the field... but it wasn't meant to be!  Even the author described how this project was initially meant for an audience of artists.  However, it was obvious later on that not only artists would find this work sensational and inspiring.  For example, look at me, I'm a birder but found this book incredibly interesting.  In fact, I'm extremely pleased to add this unique collection of drawings to my library.

Here are some more quick pics I snapped of the book:

I particularly enjoyed this close up of a Razorbill skull:

All the drawings and related text are based on actual bird specimens.  And no, birds were not harmed in the making of this book (she is clear to mention how they only used birds that perished for other reasons).

According to the website, many of the species in this book have never been illustrated before!  I'm not sure about this Common Cactus Finch but regardless, it's still interesting:

Let's be honest.  Many of you know me... and you know that I don't often recommend people to pick up a book unless I actually think you should!  Yes, I think many of you WOULD find this book super interesting and I encourage you to flip it open if you ever have the chance, you'll be glad you did.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.