US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in THE PRAIRIE NATURALIST 37:1 (March 2005) Published by the North Dakota Natural Science Society.


How do birds drink? How fast can a hummingbird fly? Why do some birds balance on one leg? How fast can an ostrich run? Why do some birds hop and others walk? What is the most abundant bird in the world? As an avian ecologist, these are just a smidgen of the many questions I have been asked by the public during the past several years. To answer these and similar questions, I typically do not reach for a text on ornithology or avian ecology. Rather, I have come to rely on a number of quick-reference, encyclopedic resources on birds, including John Terre's The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Paul Ehrlich et al.'s The Birder's Handbook, David Bird's Birder's Almanac, Frank Todd's 10,001 Titillating Tidbits of Avian Trivia, and Christopher Leahy's The Birdwatcher's Companion: an Encyclopedic Handbook of North American Birdlife. Each of these resources has its merits and shortcomings, but the latter tome has always held a special place in my heart and on my shelf because it was one of the first bird books that I had purchased as a budding birder and ecologist.