ArticlePDF Available

Raptors: The Curious Nature of Diurnal Birds of Prey Keith L. Bildstein. 2017. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 336 pages, 28 illustrations. ISBN 9781501705793. $35 (Hardcover).

©2017 Association of Field Ornithologists
doi: 10.1111/jofo.12229
Raptors: The Curious Nature of Diur-
nal Birds of Prey
Keith L. Bildstein. 2017. Cornell University
Press, Ithaca, NY. 336 pages, 28 illustrations.
ISBN 9781501705793. $35 (Hardcover).
I remember reading Newton’s (1979) semi-
nal work Population Ecology of Raptors, after
already having had some field experience and
first-hand understanding of the nature of this
excellent group of birds. Perhaps, I appreci-
ated the structured and methodical text
because I could place my own experiences
into the concepts that Newton discussed.
However, I often wonder how I would have
been influenced if I had read the book earlier
in my development as an ornithologist. The
topics may have been largely alien to me and
difficult to follow, or they could have pro-
vided me with a perspective on which to
build a path through my studies. This senti-
ment is precisely why I found Raptors: The
Curious Case of Diurnal Birds of Prey to be so
effective in its goal to condense the literature
for the raptor enthusiast.
I very much enjoyed and recommend it to
anyone interested in raptor ecology, person-
ally or professionally. The book is quite dif-
ferent in structure and scope when compared
to Newton (1979), but Bildstein provides the
same effect in his own style. It is a compre-
hensive overview of raptor ecology, complete
with examples of the most fascinating topics
in raptor studies. Engineered toward those
without the formal training to digest technical
literature, this book provides an excellent
resource for keen naturalists, birders, and
hawkwatchers looking to place their observa-
tions into context. Furthermore, it stands as a
reference and platform that is perhaps most
effective for those with ambitions to become
raptor researchers, or those already early in
their careers.
The book is not intimidating, which is its
strength. Focused on condensed, simple pre-
sentation of concepts, Bildstein effectively
communicates sometimes dense and technical
concepts. Throughout the book, he interjects
examples from his own work as support for
the discussion. This personal approach creates
an enjoyable narrative, while providing fodder
for the young eager raptor researcher to
dream of their own ambitions.
Bildstein begins the book where he should,
by defining the word “raptor,” the issues asso-
ciated with the broad term, and what groups
he does and does not cover in the text. This
approach is responsible and informative.
Organized broadly by topic, each section
begins with an applicable quote ranging from
people historic in biology, such as Charles
Darwin, to current influential names in raptor
studies, such as Ian Newton. Each quote is
addressed and contextualized in the text, pro-
viding the reader with an understanding of its
purpose as the prelude to the section. I
enjoyed these quotes immensely, primarily
because they added some artfulness as well as
some history. If the reader is unfamiliar with
the person quoted, they may feel compelled
to search out the name, gaining a broader
understanding of the history of raptor studies,
which will strengthen their appreciation and
enjoyment for the topics at hand.
Near the beginning of the book, Bildstein
discusses the relationships among what we,
collectively, refer to as raptors in the section
“Types of Raptors.” This discussion is
enlightening, particularly for those who are
not aware of distinctions between terms such
as “hawk” and “eagle.” The reader is enlight-
ened by discussions of topics such as the
dynamic, and at times dramatic, taxonomic
history of the New World vultures. Bildstein
explains the history and reasoning behind the
pendulum-like swings in the placement of
this group among, and at times far apart,
from its raptorial relatives. However, Bildstein
does not include the most recent taxonomic
change to the clade, perhaps because the book
was with the publisher in 2016 when the
group was elevated to the order Catharti-
formes, sister to Accipitriformes. I can ignore
this, however, I found the omission of one of
my favorite conceptsthe role of convergent
evolution in shaping raptor morphology and
life historiesto be an oversight.
I consider convergent evolution to be one
of the most incredible lessons that raptor
biology illustrates. Comparing life histories
and morphologies among raptors provides a
Recent LiteratureVol. 88, No. 4 417
visceral example of the mechanisms of evolu-
tion, as multiple and surprisingly similar traits
evolved independently in distinct lineages.
Although Bildstein mentions the distant rela-
tionships among raptors, he fails to drive the
concept home by comparing and contrasting
the biological and morphological development
of homologous functional traits. He alludes
to these multiple times, but there is no expli-
cit discussion of the concept of convergence.
How unfortunate for the reader to finish this
book without an understanding of this theory
and its manifestation in raptors.
Throughout the book, it is clear which
aspects of raptor biology are most favored by
Bildstein. There is a disproportionate focus
on certain topics throughout the book, with
the most attention given to migration ecol-
ogy. This section is 69 pages, more than 20
pages longer than the second-most lengthy
section on form and function at 46 pages.
Although Bildstein makes it clear in the
prelude that he will focus on aspects familiar
to him, his emphasis on migration seemed at
times overly detailed and at the expense of
other topics. For instance, the discussion of
plumage aberrations could have been substan-
tially improved by including more informa-
tion from recent literature, particularly with
respect to the complex and numerous types
of pigment aberrations that occur, and closer
attention to the terminology, which is not
consistent with definitions provided in current
peer-reviewed literature.
The book ends with a discussion of raptors
and people, which details the history of
human interaction with birds of prey. This
discussion includes an in-depth overview of
conservation history and ends with a declara-
tion of optimism that I found appropriate
and encouraging. Following the main text are
supplemental sections that are extremely help-
ful as a reader’s companion. These sections
include a list of all species mentioned in the
book (bird or other), including their scientific
names and distributions, a glossary of terms,
references, and suggested readings, all of
which improve the utility of the book as an
entry work into raptor research.
Overall, I came away edified. This book
provides a starting point for mastering key
concepts in raptor biology, and the reader
will finish the book with a good background.
Furthermore, the book provides an effective
launch pad into the world of raptor research
for the early career raptor enthusiast. Readers
who hold these ambitions should focus on
topics that engross them and inspire them to
learn more. From a productive and exhaustive
career, Bildstein crafts his understanding and
experience into this book and should be
proud of what he has created, and the aid he
has given to all raptor enthusiasts. I encourage
anyone desiring a greater understanding of
this incredible group of birds to add this
book to their library.
Bryce W. Robinson, The Peregrine Fund, Boise,
NEWTON, I. 1979. Population ecology of raptors.
Buteo Books, Vermillion, SD.
©2017 Association of Field Ornithologists
doi: 10.1111/jofo.12230
John James Audubon: The Nature of
the American Woodsman
Gregory Nobles. 2017. University of Pennsyl-
vanian Press, Philadelphia, PA. 352 pages, 11
color and 14 B&W illustrations. ISBN
9780812248944. $34.95 (Hardcover). Also
available as an e-book.
John James Audubon, as we know him,
started life in Haiti, on April 26, 1785. The
child of an affair between a French naval offi-
cer and a chambermaid, he was named Jean
Rabin (using his mother’s surname). His
mother died, his father eventually returned to
France where he took up again with the wife
he already had before the trip to the New
World, young Jean was shipped over to join
them, and he was formally adopted and given
a new nameJean-Jacques Fougere Audubon.
He kept this name until, at the age of 18, he
went off to the United States where he chan-
ged his name to the Anglicized version we
His father was well off and had been in the
plantation business in Haiti. So it was natural
that a business was procured for the young
man, with the intention that he make a liv-
ing. Apparently also, as there had been slaves
Recent Literature418 J. Field Ornithol.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.