Garden bird guide shows even starlings are darlings

Familiar Garden Birds of America: An Illustrated Guide to the Birds in Your Own Backyard, by Henry Hill Collins Jr. and Ned R. Boyajian. New edition updated and with a foreword by Christopher Leahy. Illustrated by John Cameron Yrisarry and Nina Williams. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co. 284 pp. Paperback. $9.95. Would you expect to find a hummingbird's nest constructed on an advertising sign in downtown Los Angeles? It could happen, and would indicate that plentiful flowers bloom somewhere in the midst of the new skyscrapers. It also stretches the definition of ``backyard garden.''

This book, however, generally takes a more ordinary view of what constitutes a backyard garden and what kinds of birds may be found there -- from pigeons and doves through hummingbirds, all kinds of singers and noisemakers, to starlings and sparrows.

Starlings may not be regarded as friends because of their aggressive nature and messy roosts. But this book encourages one to think again: The number of insect pests these birds consume is phenomenal and includes the Japanese beetle, which almost no other bird will eat.

The information about the wide variety of birds in this book includes range, physical characteristics, behavior, nesting, and food. The update consists mainly of corrected classifications and names to correspond with the new American Ornithological Union listing -- along with new data on ranges. It is a useful and informative book which has not been superseded by competitors in the field. Rather, it complements them.

Mary S. Cowen is a free-lance writer and longtime bird watcher.

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