“The Birds of Kentucky” by Burt L. Monroe Jr. with paintings by William Zimmerman. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2021. 252 pages, $40 (hardcover).
If you have any interest in birds, this book is for you. Burt Monroe Jr. was an internationally recognized authority on the taxonomy of birds. However, he truly believed that his passion for understanding birds needed to be transferred to the general public.
Although the book is scientifically accurate, it is written for the general public. The book recounts the history of ornithology in Kentucky from the first description of the ivory-billed woodpecker by Col. William Fleming in 1780, the founding of the Kentucky Ornithological Society by Leon Otley Pindar, to Robert S. Mengel’s classic “The Birds of Kentucky” in 1965. Many other major contributors to our knowledge of Kentucky birds are also highlighted.
The book outlines the four major physiographic regions within Kentucky characterized by elevation, vegetation and other habitat characteristics that determine the distribution of birds. For example, one region in the easternmost corner of Kentucky consists of the high ridges of the Cumberland Mountains of the Appalachian range. Several species more likely to be found in more northern states may be found at the higher elevations and not in the other physiographic regions. These regions are referred to in the species descriptions with regard to distribution.
The majority of the book covers the species of birds that have been observed or suspected to have occurred in Kentucky in taxonomic order. The descriptions include how to identify the bird, where to expect to find the bird, nesting dates, clutch sizes and dates to expect to see them. Those bird sightings that are documented are separated from those for which the records are not sufficiently documented. Because the book was first published in 1994, there have been newly-documented species for the state since then. This book describes 347 species, whereas the Kentucky Rare Bird Committee lists 387 possible species. Updated dates of occurrence are given in the “Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Kentucky.” The relative abundance of species is given with notes on declining and increasing numbers. Given that the number of birds in North America has declined by three billion birds since 1970, these observations are important.
The book ends with a graphic representation of the occurrence and abundance of birds seasonally. This graphic is a great aid to bird enthusiasts in predicting when to look for certain species and lets the more avid birder know when to report an out-of-season sighting.
Fifty-two of the species described in the book are represented by beautiful prints of paintings by William Zimmerman, a noted wildlife artist.
The book is a wealth of authoritative information for those interested in birds and visually pleasing. This book is a need for active birders and recommended for those with a general interest in birds.
– Reviewed by Blaine R. Ferrell, dean emeritus, Western Kentucky University.