The Unfeathered Bird
by Katrina van Grouw
Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2013
This is a gorgeous and fascinating book. I read about it with my beau and he promptly ordered it. Katrina van Grouw is a former curator of the ornithological collections at London's Natural History Museum, a taxidermist, an experienced bird bander, a successful fine artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Art.
So what is the book? A large coffee table book of text and drawings, bird bones, muscles, tendons, feather attachments and skeletons.
Birds aren't mammals. Mammals have 7 cervical vertebrae in their necks, but birds have more... and the pictures show the vertebra that allows that curve in the great blue heron's neck. The bones turn a corner and the vertebra is a different shape from the others. This allows the heron to strike out and catch a fish, a frog.
This book is anatomy, physiology and art. Why are birds shaped the way they are? I took ornithology in college and was fascinated. Owls have asymmetric skulls, the ear canals at different heights, to help them exactly locate where a sound is coming from. The dish shape of the face helps as well. The structure of the light bones and how the feathers attach and how the bones are arranged.... I find it entirely fascinating. It is not written as a textbook but as an exploration of many many different bird groups. And the drawings are gorgeous, all 385.