Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Bird Bills Built For The Best

It is not uncommon for chickadees to venture closer to humans than other birds.  When cross-country skiing I've had one land on the end of my pole.  They've flown in and gathered among the pine boughs over my head when I'm putting fresh water in the bird bath.  Still, yesterday, when one flew and landed on the table placed against my front windows on my covered porch, I was surprised and overjoyed.  It was a gift.

Admiration for our feathered companions grows with every song they sing, every nest they build, and every flight they take, whether it is a short spurt from tree branch to tree branch or a soaring glide on windy air currents high above the ground.  The Beak Book (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, January 5, 2021) written and illustrated by Robin Page provides readers with fantastic facts, vivid images, and one more reason birds deserve our utmost respect.  The will to survive, adaptations, and their ingenuity in using this physical characteristic will astound you.

Bird beaks come in many different
colors, shapes, and sizes.
From the time they are born
birds use their beaks - - - sometimes
called bills- - -in many unusual
and amazing ways.

As the pages in this book are turned, we meet twenty-one birds and the twenty-two uses for their versatile bills.  The soft beak of a ruddy duck can shift through mud separating out a variety of items.  Did you know at the end of the beak of a Norton Island brown kiwi is its nostrils?  It is a master sniffer.

Beaks can change prey into a meal by tossing, crushing, stabbing, or ripping it.  The keel-billed toucan carries its air-conditioner with it.  Its long beak emits heat.  

The common tailorbird is an expert at sewing.  The female's beak stitches leaves together using spider webbing like thread.  A red crossbill is clever at extracting seeds from pinecones with its beak.  In warmer weather it is not unusual to watch birds with slender, long beaks sipping nectar from blossoms. At hummingbird feeders you can hear them chirping at each other as their wings blur, holding them in place.

You can almost hear a hyacinth macaw call out--- "Look mom, no hands!" as it moves up a branch utilizing its beak.  You'll want to move aside if male hornbills start fighting.  The beak on the oriental pied hornbill is indeed a weapon.  Noted for its color and imposing size, the pileated woodpecker makes large holes in trunks with its sharp, hard bill.  On the final pages the ruddy duck makes another appearance.  This time it emerges from an egg courtesy of a special tooth on its beak. 

The first sentence describing the beak is the same for each bird, supplying readers with an inviting cadence.  Robin Page expertly selects a verb for the end of that sentence.

This beak is for plucking.

Following the sentence are one or two sentences offering further explanation.

The flightless takahe
(tah-kah-hay) plucks 
leaves and grasses with its
short, stout beak.

Her invitation with the introductory sentence is almost like a question and we seek the answer willingly.

The crisp, white canvas seen on the front, right, and back, left, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case is found throughout the book.  It heightens the details and hues of the birds' faces and beaks.  The fierceness of the eagle on the front is evident in the tilt of its head, its curved beak, and its steely stare.  It is poised for action.  The bird and text are varnished.

On the back a small circle is placed on the white background.  Within the circle, the adult eagle is using its beak to feed a baby eagle, head lifted from the nest.  This is an additional use of this bird's beak from the sentence in the interior of the book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a golden yellow (bird's beak yellow).  On the title page a shoebill stork looks directly at the reader, its body placed between two pieces of text.  Rendered in

Adobe Photoshop

the illustrations created by Robin Page are beautifully lifelike.  Texture, color, and shading are superb.  The eyes are exquisite.  You can't help but feel these creatures will move off the page at any moment.

For each bird, an enlarged version of their head, upper body and beak are prominent on the page.  A smaller accompanying image shows them engaged in the noted activity.  A caption with this smaller picture tells us their name.  For four of the birds double-page pictures rather than single-page illustrations are devoted to them.  One bird has two double-page visuals.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the common tailorbird.  The hues of rusty-red, grass green, grayish white and a splash of black of its feathers are splendid.  The spark of life in its eye adds to the authenticity.  One can easily see how the beak is used for sewing.  In the smaller picture, the female is shown stitching leaves together with spider webbing as she leans in from a branch.

Everyone, birder or casual reader, will be intrigued by the information and pictures in The Beak Book written and illustrated by Robin Page.  You'll find yourself captivated from beginning to end of this title.  At the conclusion there are two pages dedicated to showing the birds in comparative sizes to an adult human being.  Global maps show their main area of residence. What they eat is also noted.  There is a bibliography and further reading list on the final page with the publication information.  I highly recommend this book for your professional collections and your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Robin Page and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view the entire dust jacket and interior images. I suggest you take a few moments to look at the visuals for this book at the publisher's page.  You can see what a stunning title this is.  

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