As most of my readers probably have guessed, this next Bird Book Review isn’t exactly a book per se. It’s more of a pamphlet. And you may ask yourself, why am I bothering with reviewing something like this? Well, let me set you straight about this overlooked, mis-judged, piece of birding literature.
For beginners, at only $4.49, and only being 96 pages, this would be an excellent book for any budding birder. And since we like to plant the seed early in a young persons life, it’s a very straight forward, easy to follow, how to kind of book. But first let me clear up the purpose of the Merit Badge.
The purpose of the Merit Badge system is to encourage scouts to explore areas of interest that might teach them valuable skills. This could lead to a career, or a life long hobby. And as we all know the future of any hobby or area of interest, lies with the youth who are involved right now. But we shouldn’t neglect the young person who hasn’t yet discovered the joy of birding. And this is where a book like this could be of great value.
Enough about that, let’s go over this book. So at 96 pages you might think how can they cover all that’s needed for a beginner. Remember the age group that this book is written for. Youth from 11 to 18 years old.
The first couple of pages go over the actual requirements that the scout has to complete before earning the merit badge. The rest of the book is broken down into short chapters. They are:
- North America’s Birds
- What Makes a Bird a Bird?
- How Bird’s Live
- Observing Birds
- Bird Study and Science
- Bird Conservation
- Creating a backyard Bird Sanctuary
- Bird Study Resources
As you read through the chapter, North America’s Birds, you’re introduced as to how they classify birds by Order using a nice 2 page outline with a color illustration of a familiar bird from that Order. They explain in the chapter where to find birds, as well as give examples of non-native birds.
The chapter on “What Makes a Bird a Bird”, explains in simple text, using color drawings the anatomy of a bird. It also has 2 excellent drawings of a bird and a wing, with all the key parts labeled. Which is useful when they learn about field marks.
“How Birds Live” educates the reader on the food they eat, and their feeding patterns, migration, courtship and nesting patterns. And they offer advise on who to call in case you discover a banded bird.
My favorite chapter, “Observing Birds”, it what I call the meat of the subject. Now we take everything that we learned so far and put in practical use. And now we get to play with toys. Binoculars, and spotting scopes, and field guides. Oh My. From choosing the right pair of binoculars, caring for them and how to use them properly is talked about here. They devote one whole page on “What Do the Numbers Mean”. Any newbie will benefit from this section. And as they leave you pondering your first set of binoculars, they jump into bird identification, field marks, taking good field notes, and determining the different bird calls. And since this is Boy Scout related, proper birding etiquette. This is great stuff.
The book finishes off with the, “How can you make a difference” portion. This is where we want to plant the seed of thought in the youth. By participating in something as simple as the “Great Backyard Bird Count”, to helping with bird banding, these chapters open up the opportunities awaiting someone with the desire to go that one step further. The final chapter is all about creating your own back yard habitat. Choosing the correct feeder and how to build them for different species of birds. Construction of various bird houses and how to maintain them.
As I was re-reading this book, I read the Acknowledgments in the back just to see you helped with this book. I’m not going to name everyone listed, but for all you birding folks out there, I think even the most die-hard will acknowledge the ability of these people.
Scott Wiedensaul ( Eagle Scout): Natural History Writer, Birder, Bird Bander. His book “Living on the Wind” won him a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
Gary M. Stolz Ph.D. ( Eagle Scout): Refuge Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Affiliate Professor at the University of Idaho as a Ornithologist and Herpetologist.
Julie Zickefoose: Wildlife Illustrator
Bob Gress ( Eagle Scout): Director, Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita, Kansas.
As I conclude this review I truly feel that by opening the eyes of anyone who might want to be a part of this great past time, that they give this little book a try. How can you go wrong at such a great price. You can find a Scout Shop in almost every part of the country. Or better yet you can order it on-line through www.scoutstuff.org. And look, if it doesn’t work out, you’re not out a lot of money, and then you donate the book to a local troop. That will give you a warm fuzzy feelin’. Try it, you’ll like it.