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Purdue expert contributes to conservation-focused bird book

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – John B. Dunning Jr. has turned his teenage hobby into an adult profession, consulting on birding issues across the nation and now contributing to a best-selling book.

The Purdue University forestry and natural resources assistant professor recently co-edited the "Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior" (Knopf; $35) with author and illustrator David Allen Sibley. The book has five introductory chapters reviewing basic bird biology, behavior, feeding and conservation issues. The rest of the book provides specialized information with illustrations of 80 North American bird families, covering 700 species.

Dunning says the focus on conservation is part of what makes this effort different from other bird books. Each bird family's chapter has a section on conservation.

For example, he says, "Blue jays are associated with woodland edges. Urbanization has increased the number of wooded edges and increased the number of blue jays, which rob nests and prey on other species."

Species that traditionally nest deep in forests are being forced to nest closer to the woods' edges because urbanization decreases the amount of large forests, Dunning says.

"Because deep forest species never lived near predatory birds like blue jays, they are vulnerable and not adapted to blue jays' predatory tactics."

These birds don't hide or camouflage their nests the way an adapted species would, so they "suffer population decline as urbanization increases."

Dunning says the book allows people to expand their interests beyond traditional bird identification.

"People get interested in birds to identify them," he says, "but they see birds doing all sorts of things: using colors, signals and sounds. This book explains these behaviors. For example, the book goes into how gulls eat rather than simply stating what they eat."

Experienced birders should enjoy the book because of the large amount of information, and new birders find the text easy to use, Dunning says.

"Birding accommodates all levels of interest. Some people travel thousands of miles around the world to watch birds, while others can participate from their back yard."

Writer: Theresa Lawton, (765) 494-8402 or (765) 494-2722,

Source: John Dunning Jr., (765) 494-3565, home: (765) 538-2214,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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