CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Press has published the mother of all Oregon bird books - a comprehensive, 768-page reference guide to the 486 bird species known to inhabit the state.

The new book, "Birds of Oregon: A General Reference," was edited by David B. Marshall, Matthew G. Hunter, and Alan L. Contreras. It offers information on each species of bird, and their habitats and life histories.

More than a hundred contributing authors volunteered their work and expertise to create "Birds of Oregon," which includes line drawings by wildlife artist Elva Hamerstrom Paulson and data from the Oregon Breeding Bird Atlas Project.

The editors say they hope the factual nature of the book transcends political polarization to provide Oregonians with important facts on the diversity of birds in the state.

"One of my hopes is that the book will dampen some of the rhetoric and misunderstanding that have emerged from resource extractors on one side, and environmentalists on the other, regarding the needs of controversial species," wrote Marshall in the preface.

"And by describing habitat requirements, we also show that habitat destruction for one group of species invariably creates habitat for another group; yet maintaining habitat diversity is necessary to sustain all of the state's birds."

This is the first comprehensive reference to Oregon's birds published since Ira N. Gabrielson and Stanley G. Jewett's landmark book of the same name, "Birds of Oregon," published in 1940 - also by OSU, according to Tom Booth, marketing manager for the OSU Press.

"It really is an incredible resource," Booth said. "Bird watching and identification - or 'birding' - is one of the fastest growing activities around, and it certainly has become popular in Oregon in recent years. This new book should prove to be an invaluable reference guide for birders of all levels, as well as biologists, students and wildlife enthusiasts in general."

Since Gabrielson and Jewett's work, another 150 species have been added to the official list of state birds, maintained by the Oregon Birds Records Committee. Most of those species comprise "vagrants" found at various times by the increasing number of birders, the editors point out, but other species have expanded their territory into Oregon either as migrants, breeders or a combination of both.

One of the most spectacular examples of new species is the cattle egret, which came to the Americas from Africa, landing first on the East Coast, eventually migrating to Oregon.

Also moving westward into Oregon were the barred owl and grasshopper sparrow. From the northeast came the Franklin's gull, least flycatcher and northern waterthrush. And from California came the white-tailed kite, red-shouldered hawk, Anna's hummingbird, black Phoebe and blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Some of the biggest changes since 1940 have been in the number of birds. Oregon has been "inundated" by the European starling, the editors say, and the northwestern part of the state has become a haven for the western scrub jay and the house finch.

The world's largest Caspian tern colony now lives on manmade islands near the mouth of the Columbia River, where none historically had nested.

Another dramatic change has been the appearance of hundreds of thousands of Canada geese that now winter in Oregon, primarily in the Willamette Valley, but also in the Columbia Basin east of the Cascades.

"Much to the consternation of farmers, the geese are attracted to the Willamette Valley by the grass seed industry that developed after World War II," Marshall said.

Success stories in Oregon include population increases of bald eagles and ospreys, and the re-establishment of peregrine falcons after their population had been decimated, primarily because of the widespread use of the insecticide DDT.

Oregon also has had some losses, the book reveals. Two formerly common breeding species - the yellow-billed cuckoo and the sharp-tailed grouse - have disappeared, though attempts are being made to reintroduce the grouse. The state's upland sandpiper population, once among the largest in the West, is all but gone.

And several other species - including the canvasback, snowy plover, blue grouse, mountain quail, yellow warbler, horned lark, and others - are in serious decline for a variety of reasons. Habitat loss or change, hunting pressure, predation, disease, and loss of food sources can all result in the decline of species.

Contributors to "Birds of Oregon" ranged in age from 17 to 77 years of age, and hailed from all over Oregon. Harry B. Nehls served as senior contributor, M. Ralph Browning was taxonomic editor, and Jonathan P. Brooks was cartographer. Rachel White Scheuering was editorial assistant.

More than two-dozen individuals or organizations helped sponsor "Birds of Oregon," including federal agencies, timber companies, environmental groups, scientists, and utilities. "Birds of Oregon" sells for $65 and is available at bookstores or by calling 1-800-426-3797.

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Tom Booth, 503-796-0547