A Birder's-Eye View of Brazil

March 23, 2011

A new book series, Birds of Brazil, explores how the hobby of birdwatching can encourage conservation. The first stop for the field guides? The Pantanal and Cerrado.

Brazil is a big country with a lot of birds. The South American nation has 1,825 known avian species, in fact. Finding them—and knowing what you’re looking at—is a daunting task for any birdwatcher. But a new travel series is here to help. Better yet, the set of five regional guides will help the birds that appear in their pages as well.

Produced by WCS, Cornell University Press, and Editora Horizonte in Sao Paulo, the “Birds of Brazil” series promotes birdwatching as a means for conservation. By encouraging Brazilians and tourists to seek out parrots, spoonbills, hoatzins, trogans, and hummingbirds to add to their birding lists, the first edition hopes to protect these birds’ special homes: the Pantanal and the Cerrado.
 
The Pantanal and the Cerrado are the largest freshwater and most endangered grassland ecosystem on Earth, respectively. Through its impactful graphics, lavish illustrations and in-depth descriptions, the guide thoughtfully depicts the region’s 740 avian species. It also features an entire chapter on its many landscapes; seasonal grasslands, marshes, wooded savannas, and dry forests. The book provides a strong conservation message on these wild places, showing how overdevelopment by agribusiness gravely threatens the vast Cerrado—dubbed the "great plains of Brazil.”

“The guide is a resource for the citizens of Brazil, one that will instill a love for the natural world through the joys of birdwatching,” said John A. Gwynne, WCS’s emeritus chief creative officer and one of the authors and artists of the guide.

Other authors include renowned senior author Robert S. Ridgely, author of many authoritative volumes on Latin American birds, famed neotropical bird artist Guy Tudor, and Brazilian ornithologist Martha Argel. The authors collaborated with renowned artists and photographers and an advisory team of eminent Brazilian avian experts in an effort to make birding easy and seductive.

Birding guides often include a country’s complete list of bird species. Unfortunately, this leaves little space for detailed maps and information on the birds’ biology and behaviors. The Birds of Brazil series is different. Each edition will focus on a specific region, providing more graphics and text on each species. For beginners, this makes identifying these often fast-moving flyers easier. Dr. Ridgely's description of the plush-crested jay, for instance, notes the bird ranges “in flocks of up to about a dozen birds, sometimes moving together with purplish jays.” His entry for the world’s largest parrot—the hyacinth macaw—describes the its vocalization as “incredibly loud, deeper in pitch and throatier than other macaws.”

The creators also don’t want birding and nature appreciation to be reserved as a pastime for the wealthy. Unlike other bird guides for Brazil that are often prohibitively expensive, Birds of Brazil is $25 and available in English and Portuguese. A website, launching in May, will supplement the guide with how-to tips on birding and exploring Brazil’s diverse landscapes.

The late Dr. José Márcio Ayres, former director of WCS-Brazil, was a legendary conservationist who devoted his life to protecting the ecosystems of the Amazon, largely through establishing sustainable development reserves. He also identified birdwatching as a pathway for building local commitment to conservation. This series is part of his legacy.

“Birds of Brazil is a landmark achievement for conservation of Brazil’s wildlife and wild places. The people of Brazil have long revered their natural resources, and this book can serve as something of an owner’s manual for Brazilians wishing to conserve their fabulous bird diversity,” said WCS President and CEO Steve Sanderson. “Inspired by a great Brazilian conservationist, it is a labor of love.”


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