Friday, October 14, 2011

Bertel Bruun, RIP

I confess, I was a kid birder. We had a feeder outside the kitchen window of our Connecticut house, and the folks bought a copy of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide, the standard reference at the time. When I started heading out into the woods and marshes looking for birds beyond the back yard, for some reason I acquired a copy of Birds of North America (first ed., 1966), co-written by the late Bertel Bruun (along with Chandler Robbins and Herbert Zim).

I found the book much more user-friendly than Peterson's guide. For one thing, I thought, and still think, that the illustrations were more life-like and true to the birds than Peterson's iconic paintings. But more important, the book's design placed the full text descriptions adjacent to the plates, rather than elsewhere in the book as was Peterson's norm. No annoying fumbling and flipping back and forth in the field. The NY Times obit notes that this eminently sensible design was Mr. Bruun's innovation and principal contribution to the book.

I now also own a copy of the definitive Sibley guide, a beautiful achievement and a wonderful reference. But when I see a bird I'm unsure of, my first move is still for Mr. Bruun's masterpiece.

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