Review by C.J. Bunce

You can’t fully appreciate science fiction without a grasp on natural science, one of the categories of “real science” we look at from time to time here at borg.  We’ve delved into dinosaurs, and trees, and yes, birds (oh, my!) and we’re back again today with a striking tie-in to a 2019 board game that has become even more popular thanks to the increase in game sales due to sheltering at home for the pandemic.  The game is Wingspan from Stonemaier Games, a celebration of birds where you are a bird enthusiast and your goal is to attract birds to your aviary.  The game is so popular it has prompted a market of custom deluxe scoreboards.  But it’s often difficult to play a board game outside–and this is about the natural world–so a new book from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the artists for the board game have come up with an outdoor version that doubles as a gorgeous interactive field guide, called Celebrating Birds. 

We’ve discussed the birds and artists specializing in birds before, in books like The Family of Hummingbirds, featuring the artistry of John Gould, and even the Cornell Lab of Ornithology specifically, where artist Jane Kim designed and painted her landmark bird mural, documented in the pages of The Wall of Birds.  Spanish artists Natalia Rojas and Ana María Martínez initially created 170 illustrations for Wingspan, but this was expanded, with 181 North American birds making it into the final 6.5 x 8-inch, full-color, hardcover field guide.

Primarily a field guide to identify birds in the continental U.S., Celebrating Birds begins with a two-page set of rules for readers to use the information featured on each page to go outside and tally the birds you see and what they are doing in their habitats, how they nest and what they eat.  Each page includes an illustration of the bird, all organized by family and order.  It states the genus and species, an interesting factoid, with details of the environment it is found in, and other identifying details specific to the species.  Did you know the western meadowlark is the state bird of six states (the northern cardinal beat it with seven states)?  The red-winged blackbird, one of my favorites, has scarlet and yellow wing patches they can puff up and hide.  The American goldfinch is strictly a vegetarian bird, along with the house finch, which I see a lot of.  I feed plenty of juncos, and no wonder: it’s one of the most common birds on the continent.  And I eagerly await the green or blue herons later in the spring.

Players and amateur naturalists can discover details about many of the birds currently at risk for extinction.  As the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined precipitously, Celebrating Birds is a way to learn and teach awareness, encourage a lifetime of care and concern for animals, and provide resources on some of the most important ecological issues facing us today.  An appendix provides online opportunities to learn more.  The artists and game creators offer more information on their process for creating the game and this book in a foreword and afterword.

Take a look at some preview pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

It’s a bright and cheery source of study for the coming spring, with striking artwork, and it’s a great gift for any bird lover.  Celebrating Birds is now available for pre-order here at Amazon, slated for an April release.  The game Wingspan is available here.