By Karl DeHart
Recently Justin posted a question in the forum asking about books on the biology and ecology of game birds. It got me to looking at my book shelf for titles for him. But I really don’t have many books on the subject and my response to his post in the forum just kept growing. So I decided to post this response in an article format to share with those that don’t visit the forum page. So here’s my reply for Justin.
Virtually all the reading I have done concerning the ecology and biology of upland game birds has come from peer reviewed scientific articles not popular books (books written for the general public). Biological focused journals such as World Pheasant Association, Wilson Bulletin, The Condor, Journal of Animal Ecology, Nature and Auk are loaded with basic biology/ecology information. Most people assume these scientific articles are written in a way the average person couldn’t get much information out of them. That’s simply not true.
Obviously scientist make mistakes, some individuals lie about their research and many results are not the end of the story in the discussion. The argument that I make about using these types of sources for your research into the biology of game birds is simple. When you have a problem with your truck you take it to a professional mechanic not the Plumber. You start with the person/resource who is supposedly the professional.
Most journal articles are composed of 5 sections; abstract, introduction, methods, analysis, and discussion. If you want to glean the important points of a scientific publication simply read the abstract to find out if the rest of the article contains the information you want to read about. The abstract contains an overview of the entire paper. If it does then the next step is to do what the majority of us scientists do for many of the papers we read…just read the introduction and discussion. The methods and statistics of a paper are not necessary if a person is just interested in learning the results and conclusions of the research. For my thesis research I read hundreds, possibly more than a thousand introductions and discussions. I most often only delved into the other sections if I wanted to cite the paper in my thesis.
Now how do you find these Journals? It’s as easy as going to the library to find
any other book. Go to the computers and
instead of conducting a search for the general stack of books you’ll look
through the Periodicals. The neat thing
about this though is you can search for terms like, “Chick survival of chukar
The first book I would suggest is Ian Newton’s, Population Limitation in Birds. This is a comprehensive text book type book but written extremely well and clearly. It covers far more than game bird biology and has great sections such as predator/prey interactions. Dr. Newton is well published in scientific journals and a world renowned Ornithologist. I’m noting his credentials because of an issue that exists with popular books. Many of these texts have errors in the comments they make. Some popular books are written in a format that makes it seem the author has done extensive review of the available literature and that their viewpoints are backed by the science. This is far too often not the case. Or, the author may misinterpret the findings of the scientific paper. In fact, citing popular books and magazine articles are not a good idea for most research papers.
Having said that I will recommend books endorsed/written by organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society and The Audubon Society, such as The Audubon Societies Encyclopedia of North American Birds. These organizations tend to review any publications that will carry their name pretty well. They have become successful not only because of their popular missions and conservation efforts but also because they produce quality information for the public.
I’m not a science snob as I have learned much about upland game bird behavior simply by being a hunter, listening to other hunters, hiking mile after mile and then from those efforts developing a “search image” for each species I hunt. It’s called experience, and probably is the most valuable way to learn the biology and ecology needed to effectively hunt the birds we share a passion for.
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