Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: The Unfeathered Bird

If you want to be constantly amazed by interesting facts regarding all families of birds, The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw is the place to start.  The book begins with an overview of bird anatomy and explains what the book is going to be all about.  If you don't know much about bird anatomy before delving into this book, the first chapter may be a bit overwhelming.  But, don't worry, as soon as Grouw starts writing on families of birds it becomes much easier to understand.

The illustrations in The Unfeathered Bird are phenomenal.  The basic concept is to show what a bird looks like without all of its feathers.  At times it just shows bones, sometimes muscles attached to bones, and sometimes the skin is included.  The book shows the reader what they can't normally see, which results in the them having an entirely different view of birds after reading it.

Much of the book concentrates on explaining the relations between bird families.  When you can only view a bird feather-deep, the relationships can be hard to see.  But, when you can see all the different levels of a bird the relationships can be different than they first appear.  If you just take the habit of Marabou Storks eating carrion, you may classify them as being related to vultures, "Considering storks as waterbirds, the carrion-eating habits of Marabou Storks seem rather incongruous.  The habit was conveniently rationalized when researchers pioneering DNA hybridization techniques in the 1980s revealed the storks' closest living relatives to be, not herons, nor even ibises and spoonbills, but the New World vultures."  It goes on to explain that now it's not believed that storks and vultures are closely related.

Illustrations of stork skulls

One aspect of the book that I wish would have been done differently is making it simpler to follow the text while it is talking about the illustrations.  If the illustrations would have been labeled it would have made this a more readable text and more accommodating for the average bird enthusiast.

Title:  The Unfeathered Bird
Author: Katrina van Grouw
Publisher:  Princeton University Press
Publication Date: February 13, 2013
Official Website:

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on  The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.


Unknown said...

Great review, this definitely looks like something I'd enjoy! I'm just wondering if some of the science jargon might get in my way.

Eric Ripma said...

The science jargon got in my way in the first chapter but once I was past that point everything was much easier to understand. It really is an interesting book and has a completely different perspective on birds than our (birders) usual perspective!