I’m just beginning work on my 11th book, tentatively called An Atlas of Birds. Organized a bit like a geographic atlas, it will feature birds from each of nine biogeographical regions of the world. (although some say there are anywhere from six to twelve major biogeographical regions.) The goal is to choose 35 or so birds representative of each region. I thought, OK, easy enough. It’s not.
What 35 birds would you choose to represent North America (Nearctic region), for instance? All birds aren’t found in every country and state or province. Should only permanent residents be counted? What about migrants? And what about the breadth of geographic distribution and commonness? The Bald Eagle, Red-winged Blackbird and American Robin are characteristic and ubiquitous over the continent but what about the well-known Baltimore Oriole, not found in the far west? Or the Roadrunner, restricted to the southwestern U.S.?
State birds seems like a good list to start with. Alabama has the Northern Flicker, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi the Northern Mockingbird, and several have adopted the Northern Cardinal. I’m not going to include the Delaware Blue Hen, but should I consider the Willow Ptarmigan, state bird of Alaska but restricted to the far north? The Hawaiian Goose or Nene? Or the relatively rare Lark Bunting of Colorado?
I should probably consider the well-known Common Loon even though it breeds mainly in the sparsely populated northern climes of the continent and winters on the ocean coasts. What about Brown and White Pelicans? Should I include both?
See my quandry? One of the considerations I have is to write a short and interesting essay on each of these birds. Roadrunners and loons lend themselves to interesting stories, robins and grackles less so. Should the fascinating but uncommon Phainopepla or Townsend’s Solitaire be included but not the much more common Mourning Dove? I’m struggling to come up with criteria to choose species to write about.
To make the assignment even more challenging, I have to come up with a similar list for each of the other biogeographical realms around the world. What about those birds found nearly worldwide like the Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and Barn Owl or the Barn Swallow that breeds in most of the northern parts of the world and winters in the southern? Choosing 35 species out of 60 in the Antarctic seems doable but condensing 3,431 neotropical species down to a characteristic one percent of the continent is a daunting task.
So I offer you readers a challenge. Come up with a list of 35 birds from any (or all) of the nine biogeographical regions (Western Palearctic, Eastern Palearctic, Nearctic, Neotropical, Afrotropical, Indo Malayan, Australian, Oceania, and Antarctica) and explain your reasoning for your choices.
If I substantially accept your list, as thanks I will put your name in the acknowledgements section of the book and send you a free copy when it is published, in about a year. This is your chance to break into the world of ornithological publishing, as modest as it might be. Seriously, I would appreciate your input.