The World's Rarest Birds

OUR VERDICT: A beautiful and impressive book that highlights the very real threat of extinction for many of the world's bird species.

BirdLife and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classify 590 species as Endangered or Critically Endangered, but there are another 60 species so obscure that no conservation data has been accumulated on them at all.

This beautiful and impressive book gathers them all together, illustrating each with dramatic and breathtaking photographs and, in the case of the 75 species where no images are known to exist, the vibrant and seemingly life-like paintings by Tomasz Cofta.

After brief introductory snippets on the IUCN, the birds themselves, their threats and the efforts of conservationists to protect these species, the book is divided into regional directories covering all the continents and their different conservation challenges – as well as the Oceanic islands – and highlighting the hot-spots of endemism and near-extinction in each.

This rich and informative book, which acts as both an authoritative reference and coffee table browser, reopens one’s eyes to the astounding variety of the world’s birds while simultaneously producing a daunting feeling of melancholy and helplessness at what we are losing or might lose in the near future. Fortunately, the world’s conservationists do not let such shared feelings stop them in their tracks for one moment, and the read-between-the-lines stories in the book are often the innovatory and tireless efforts to save one and all of the species covered. 

Perhaps the section that hits home the most is that covering the ‘data deficient’ species. Many of these are still so little known that their populations, habits and even the factors driving them into oblivion are still obscure. In fact, for many, the single most reliable truth could be that we let them go extinct in our lifetimes, when we need not have. The World’s Rarest Birds goes quite some way towards highlighting the daunting work that is still needed to stop this from happening.

  • The World’s Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfield, Andy Swash and Robert Still (Princeton, New Jersey, 2013)
  • 360 pages, numerous colour photos and maps
  • ISBN 9780691155968. Hbk £34.95. Birdwatch Bookshop from £31.95