Owls of North America and the Caribbean, by Scott Weidensaul

If you like owls as much as I do, then the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean is the book for you.  Filled with gorgeous, glossy photographs of owls, this book also serves as an excellent reference source.

Neither as folksy and readable as the Bent series on birds nor as daunting and dense as the scientifically rigorous Birds of North America accounts, Weidensaul has read the scientific papers and translated them into a reference guide for interested amateur naturalists.

peterson-owls-coverThis book is one of a new series by the renowned Peterson field guide publisher Houghton Mifflin called Peterson Reference Guides and is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York.  Creator of the field guide series back in the 1930s, Roger Tory Peterson was the most accomplished birder and bird artist of the 20th century.

Weidensaul’s book covers 39 owl species found north of Guatemala, including five endemic Caribbean species.  His extended introduction to owls explains how to use the book, and one illustration labels every possible term describing the parts of an owl such as “upper chest,” “primaries,” and “ear tufts.”

But Weidensaul’s species’ accounts form the heart of the book and cover the natural history, taxonomy, ecology, migration, and conservation status of owls.  Well-executed color range maps illustrate their breeding and wintering ranges.

Weidensaul is especially well-versed in snowy and northern saw-whet owls because of his ongoing studies of these species, as well as those owls that live here in his native state of Pennsylvania—barn, barred, great horned and eastern screech-owls. He has also written fascinating pieces on short-eared and long-eared owls, a few of which winter in Pennsylvania.  Many of the excellent photos of short-eared owls, for instance, were credited to Pennsylvanians Alan Richard and Tom Johnson.

In addition to a bibliography of every species at the end of their account, there is a general bibliography at the end of the book, an index, and a comprehensive glossary of such words as “neoptile,” “polymorphic,” and “zyodactyl.”

Weidensaul pays tribute to the many people who study owls, writing that, “They are diurnal primates studying nocturnal raptors, which calls for even more fortitude and tenacity than is typical in scientific research.”

As readers and owl aficionados, we can take advantage of their dedication and expertise by sitting comfortably in an armchair and browsing through this beautiful and informative book.