Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory

by Allen M. Hale • October 21, 2022

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Book Review: Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory

Whitelaw, John P., Jeffrey D. Brawn, Henry S. Pollock and John W. Fitzpatrick, Editors, Photographs by John P. Whitelaw. $39.95

John Whitelaw, a retired physician from British Columbia, combined his life-long interests in natural history and photography to find and take close-up photographs of these fascinating denizens of the tropical understory. The calls and songs of most of these understory species are frequently heard, but only seen by perseverance and/or chance. But up close, their dark plumages often with a touch of white, blue, or red are quite beautiful. What makes this book an added treasure are the essays accompanying the photographs by some 20 ornithologists, both famous and those less well known. These contributions delve into the lives and habits of these specialists living in the tangled vegetation in the forest shadows. Having enjoyed mostly brief glimpses of these birds on frequent trips to Panama, it was exciting to see their faces and feathers at close range and learn more about their interesting lives.

Allen Hale

Senior Buyer

Buteo Books

Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory is an arresting visual trip to the unseen corners of the Neotropical forest understory. Edited by John P. Whitelaw, Jeffrey D. Brawn, Henry S. Pollock, and John W. Fitzpatrick, this book combines unique images of tropical birds with inspired essays by leaders in the world of modern ornithology.

With one-of-a-kind photos of seldom-documented birds, the authors use photography as a conservation tool. Many of the birds are more often heard than seen´┐Żnot much is known about some of them, and much of what we do know is found in historical natural history literature, not contemporary accounts. Due to dense vegetation, low light conditions, and the birds' furtive behavior and cryptic coloring, they are notoriously difficult to photograph. Yet, Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory delves deep into the Panamanian forest understory to show why these birds should be included in discussion of the current conservation crisis. What these species lack in bright colors they make up for in distinctive behaviors, subtle plumage patterns, and ongoing mystery.

Elusive Birds of the Tropical Understory invites and inspires naturalists of all ages to take a closer look at a fascinating assemblage of overlooked birds. Afterword by John Kricher.

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