The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in West Virginia, Edited by Richard S. Bailey and Casey B. Rucker

Reviewed by Cynthia D. Ellis

It’s here! The long awaited second edition of the West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas has arrived! 

Since the first ever breeding bird atlas in the world was published in England in 1970, West Virginia birders have known they wanted to census our birds too—to survey what species nest here and in what locations.  

This much anticipated book was preceded by the first West Virginia atlas in 1994. Now the newest one has finally been published after an enormous amount of field work, writing, editing and more.  “The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in West Virginia,” weighs in at a hefty 6 ½ pounds and sports a gorgeous cover by Julie Zickefoose, famed naturalist, writer, and artist. The book’s editors, Richard Bailey and Casey Rucker, made this dedication: “To the happy few who gave tremendously of their time, money, and devotion in pursuit of greater understanding of the Mountain State’s beloved birdlife.”   

What is a breeding bird atlas? Here is what it is not. This is not a bird identification guide. This book is not meant to be tucked in a pocket or day pack and carried along on outings. Rather this is a comprehensive resource. “A breeding bird atlas is a grid-based survey used to document the status and distribution of all bird species that breed within a given country, state, or county”. And with 160 species confirmed as breeding by this latest effort, it can be understood that a large volume, which required much research, would be the outcome.  

Who might use the information in a bird atlas? Anyone who wishes to know about the number of species and their distribution, about rarities, and about information for a basis of an Environmental Impact Assessment [EIA]. In this book’s foreword, Jay Buckelew—one of the authors of the first atlas—said, “Breeding bird atlases provide not only a snapshot of a state or province’s birdlife during a restricted period, but also a baseline to which changes in avifauna can be compared. The temperate forests of the Appalachian Mountains region stand out as a center of global biodiversity whose importance will only increase over the course of this century. It is my hope that this Atlas will augment other recent projects in nearby states in providing important information to promote the conservation of globally as well as regionally important bird populations.”

Indeed, these topics are addressed in the book. The Introduction includes a bit about the “Role of the West Virginia Altases in Conservation Planning,” and Chapter 3 is titled “Habitats in a Changing Landscape.” Chapter 9 is “Bird Conservation in West Virginia,” with subtopics such as History, Legislation, Abundance and Trends, Collision Hazards and Current and Future Trends.  

What else can be found in this atlas? Well, there are species accounts for all of the birds confirmed as breeding here, in taxonomic order, from Canada Goose to Dickcissel. There are maps and graphs and photos which range from sublime captures of a Wood Duck and a Red-shouldered Hawk, to a depiction of Chipping Sparrows copulating and of a House Sparrow nabbing a Cheeto.

There’s a well-earned tribute to our ally Brooks Bird Club and thanks for their help with both atlases.  The valuable assistance of the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI)’s spruce restoration programs is noted. Joe Rieffenberger is among authors listed in “Literature Cited”. 

Also, this atlas includes a discussion of Climate Change, with the challenges to birds characterized as “often-severe, multiplying, and complex.”  However, the book concludes by looking forward to a future 3rd Atlas and by pointing out that, “West Virginia is a small state in both population and geographical extent, but its prominent position within one of the most biodiverse temperate ecosystems in the world confers a substantial responsibility to conserve the birdlife on the state’s expansive forests.”  

Your own copy of the new atlas, or one for your favorite birder or library may be ordered through the publisher: The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in West Virginia Edited by Richard S. Bailey and Casey B. Rucker (