Review: The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw
Published by Princeton University Press, The Unfeathered Bird gives a unique look at the skeletal structures of over two hundred species of birds. Not only is Katrina van Grouw the author but is also the artist of all the drawings in this expansive book.
She depicts each respective species of birds in their natural activities so the drawings are not completely devoid of context or so far removed from their natural engagements; swimming underwater, eating its prey, in flight, and pecking at trees, for example. To this effect, the reader can better understand not only the structure of these creatures, but also their natural movements. To accompany each large drawing of the birds, Grouw has clear and richly informative text on not only each species, but also on the different anatomical parts of the birds. Her writing strays from the dry lexicon of science textbooks for the reader to better follow and understand. Also, the vocabulary key at the beginning of the book and at each bird group makes it significantly easier to follow the terminology and acts as a helpful reference tool.
The author and artist makes clear, however, that this book is not intended as an anatomy of birds, but rather an artistic representation of the skeletal structures of birds and its ultimate effect on the exterior appearance and posture of each bird depicted. What I find rather charming about the drawings are their reference to 18th and 19th century drawings of botanicals and animals that were intended for scientific study, but in effect hold their own value in aesthetic beauty. In this respect, The Unfeathered Bird is a great collection of images to study for their own merit outside of their scientific value.
One critique I have for the book is the lack of accompanying images of each species of birds with their exterior appearance depicted. For readers who are not versed in the science of birds and their various appearances, some coloured drawings or photographs of the complete bird would help give a better visual reference to marry both the interior and exterior structure of the bird. Although the premise of the book is the skeletal anatomy, supplementary images of the complete species may make it more accessible and relatable to the reader.
This book is an enjoyable read, rich with highly detailed illustrations and information and, I would argue, has the possibility of serving as a sort of cannon of taxonomy with such an expansive overview.
Visit The Unfeathered Bird's website here for more information on the publication and Grouw.