New York. Oxford, England. 236 P. Extinct Birds is an absorbing study of the world's recently extinct bird species, the first complete survey since Walter Rothschild's classic work of 1907. Drawing together many strands of evidence and supposition, Errol Fuller succeeds in combining scientific accuracy with a lively and readable style. Since 1600 some 75 bird species have become extinct, many since Rothschild wrote his book. The author has drawn on a wide range of sources for his accounts of the birds, their habitats and demise. The evidence of preserved cabinet skins and skeletal specimens is coupled with the eye-witness accounts of early travellers and explorers. Their stories are sometimes tantalizingly slight: isolated sightings of a single bird may be the only evidence that a species ever existed. By contrast the expeditions of the nineteenth-century naturalists are well documented and their descriptions are often accompanied by detailed drawings and paintings. In more recent cases our knowledge about an extinct species can be so extensive that even the precise time and place of death of its last surviving member is recorded. Nearly all species are illustrated with color plates from archival sources, including the work of such acknowledged masters of wildlife art as Audubon, Keulemans, Wolf, and Lear. These artists often had the advantage of working from fresh specimens or even from living birds, and their work is a primary source of scientific knowledge as well as being beautiful in its own right. The stories of these birds are sometimes fantastic, often touching and humorous, but ultimately sad. Extinct Birds is a fascinating record of those species of birds which have been unable to adapt and survive, and a timely reminder of man's capacity to change his environment for the worse.
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