Working for birds in Africa

Measuring birds

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 12:10 -- abc_admin
Siegfried Eck, Jürgen Fiebig, Wolfgang Fiedler, Iris Heynen, Bernd Nicolai, Till Töpfer, Renate van den Elzen, Raffael Winkler & Friederike Woog, 2011. Wilhelmshaven: Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft. N.d. 116 pp, 25 two-colour figures. Spiral-bound softback with plastic covers. ISBN 978-3-923757-05-3 from

For anyone needing to take or compare biometrics of birds, either from specimens or live birds, or indeed to compare the two, this is the first dedicated concise reference book available. It has simple, clear illustrations and explanations of the different ways measurements can be taken, highlighting those that are generally used as standard. As such it will be of great value to all those wanting to understand and use such measures, be they taxonomists, bird ringers or amateur birdwatchers. This pocket-sized, sturdy (spiral-bound) weather-resistant book is very nicely produced and, despite the slightly high price tag for its size, is destined to become a standard feature of bird ringers’ and taxonomists’ equipment alike. When viewing the often large number of potentially different ways to measure birds, it is hardly surprising that there is a need for such a book.

The authors clearly know their subject extremely well, and have the combined experience of working with specimens and live birds. The book is written in English and German, with the text in each language in parallel on each page.

The work is divided into two parts. The first provides general information on measuring birds, with chapters on accuracy, reliability and comparability of measurements, differences in measuring fresh and dried specimens, numbering flight feathers and the use of skull ossification for ageing passerines, and concludes with an introduction to the necessary equipment. The second part is a field manual to actually taking measurements.

Excellent line illustrations mean that no uncertainty remains with regard to the exact measuring points. Besides recommending methods for standard measurements in ornithology, the book additionally lists for each measurement the historical differences that have existed in taking them. This helps enormously in interpreting measurements in the literature. The bringing together of methodology for measuring dead and live birds is a valuable achievement in this relatively small book, and importantly one that should go a long way to help standardise measurements taken into the future.

Chris Bowden

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