Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America

i-35b26bf493247299cf48c439e42b5822-k9534-thumb-300x417-72185.gifDid you know that there is an entire group of birds called "Tube Noses" because they have tubes on their noses? Well, to be more exact, the term is "tubenoses" and the noses are beaks. The tubes are tubular nostril-like thingies that most (all?) birds have which are extra tube-like in the tubenoses. Thus the name.

Albatrosses, petrels, and storm-petrels, which includes shearwaters, make up the tubenoses, and the newly produced book Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide is about the North American species of this order, scientifically known as the Procellariiformes.

I love this book and I now want to become a tubenose watcher. This will be difficult from Minnesota. What makes it difficult is that Procellariiformes are ocean birds, and are truly pelagic, returning to land only to breed, and generally then only to remote islands. But there are exceptions. Some nest in the interior in the Arctic region, and they are occasionally seen on the Salton Sea and in the Sonoran desert (a 1997 report lists 27 records of this, ever).

There are four Families divided among 23 Genera made up of 140+ Species of tubenoses. (Wikipedia says there are only 108 species ... can somebody fix that please?) There are about 70 species in North America at present, or recently known. There are probably more endangered tubenoses than any other Order of bird, or if not, nearly so. They spend a lot of time in the air, a lot of time at sea, and spend so little time on land that many species can't really walk. One group, the fulmar-petrels, converges on skunks: Some of them can project a noxious liquid several feet from their mouths to discourage predators.

But enough about the birds, lets talk about the book. Steven H.G. Howell is a widely known ornithologist and bird writer, who is probably best known for Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds (Peterson Reference Guides). There is a connection here to the Procellariiformes, of course, because if you spend all your time at sea, molting periods are more important than for the average bird.

Prior to the publication of this work, there really was no photographic comprehensive guide to the "North American" tubenoses. There are just under 1000 photos and figures in this 520 page book, and a LOT of text. There are 70 or so birds described in over 500 pages, so the information level is very high. This is a field guide because of its attention to bird identification, a reference because of its rich detail and copious citations, and a coffee table book because it is biggish, hard covered, and pretty.

I find the range maps interesting because they have not only the usual detail, but also, arrows showing the migratory patterns of of the birds. It seems that many species of tubenoses migrate in circles, and not just back and forth. Huge, giant circles the size of Canada in many cases.

If you plan on adding any number of tubenoses to your life list as a birder, you need two things. 1) This book; and 2) Dramamine.

Oh, and a boat. Happy birding!

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See more bird book reviews here.

The Salton Sea reference:

Patten, Michael and Ricahrd Minnich. 1997. Procelliariiformes occurence at the Salton Sea and Sonoran Desert. The Southwestern Naturalist 42(3):302-311.

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Corpus Christi being a better locale than Minnesota for seeing these birds, I want this book. I wish it were paper back, though. A large hardcover is not a field guide.

" they are occasionally seen on the Salton Sea and in the Sonoran desert (a 1997 report lists 27 records of this, ever)."

Tubenoses at the Salton Sea tend to be due to hurricanes shooting straight up the Gulf of California and into the Salton basin. A rare event. The strong winds drag all sorts of flying things along, and the sea birds sometimes then hang around the Salton Sea for a while, probably not knowing where else to go.

By Achrachno (not verified) on 26 Jan 2012 #permalink

I keep looking at this book too. I might get out past the west coast islands for birding once every five years and don't know if I should buy this book just for that. If I did have the book, I may end up doing something foolish.

A few years back we were working in various places in British Columbia looking at potential windfarm inpacts on bats and birds. One night back at the field house a notice came by email about a few jobs that were looking for biologists who were willing to travel on a vessel that was following an ice-breaker through the Arctic. The job entailed writing observations of all pelagic birds spotted (as well as mammals).

This job ad was read aloud and the room became very quiet. One guy pointed out he had his pelagic birding book with him that he would lend out. The project lead laughed a bit, looked at everyone not laughing, laughed a bit more nervously, looked again, then stated, "No, no, no. You can't go. You're working for us! You signed a contract!".

We wouldn't have gone anyway (professional reasons not to mention keeping your word), but it certainly was a very tempting offer. If I actually had this book on my shelf, I may do something foolish and spurn a good recurring contract in my local area for a one-shot pelagic birding adventure.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 28 Jan 2012 #permalink

Sigh. I really want this book. It would fill a hole in my bookshelf. Must resist impulse buying. For now.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 28 Jan 2012 #permalink