Steve N. G. Howell is certainly one of the best-known ornithologists and one of the most versatile. One example of this is the wide variety of books he has written on different groups of birds such as: Gulls of the Americas, Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds, A guide to the birds of Mexico and Northern Central America and Where to Watch Birds in Mexico. All these titles give us an example of his incredible versatility. He has also collected massive information about one of the most enigmatic group of birds – seabirds. After several years traveling the seas and oceans around the planet, he published a guide dedicated to this challenging group of birds. Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America will no doubt serve as a reference book on this group of birds for a long time.
Though the book is large, nearly 500 pages, its quality is unsurpassed. Though its size makes it uncomfortable to use in the field, it will be a great tool to use before or after a pelagic outing, or during a day of observation from the coast.
Strengths of the Guide
The introduction of the book is highly educational and interesting, and introduces us to the world of ocean dynamics. Readers will appreciate his explanations of the heterogeneity of the oceans, their current systems, thermoclines, upwellings, etc.. This is another of the virtues of the author. Howell teaches us not only about the identification of different species, but also about their surrounding environment. He includes information about the population status of some species, the threats they face, and conservation challenges.
Another of the strengths of this book is the author’s treatment of the taxonomy of the species, many of them separated in different taxa. Howell has visited many museums around the world and has extensive experience in the field and shares some of his conclusions here. While not all his conclusions have been formally adopted by the scientific community, they should be further examined for subsequent changes in classification, pending more conclusive molecular analysis.
Petrels, Albatrosses and Storm-Petrels Identification Plates
To aid in identification, the book contains numerous photos of each species, with variations in the color of those species that have different color phases. He also includes comparisons with other similar species, status of the species, and distribution maps. And above all, in our opinion one of the greatest strengths of the book are the details about molt, which allow us to determine the age or species taxa, whose times of molt differ significantly. For several species of shearwaters the book includes some wonderful illustrations by Ian Lewington.
Among the few things that could be improved, I would emphasize the need for a more complete index, since the book is extensive and some contents are not easy to locate.
In conclusion, this book is a safe buy. Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America will become, without a doubt, the best reference for lovers of sea birds. Not only for Americans but also for Europeans, since this guide contains information on most of the species that can be seen in the Western Atlantic. Enjoy learning about seabirds!