Open Access
1 January 2001 Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee
David A. Aborn
Author Affiliations +

Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee.—Charles P. Nicholson. 1997. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee. xiii + 426 pp., 176 black-and-white drawings, 23 tables and figures, 281 distribution and abundance maps, 19 other maps. ISBN 0-87049-987-4. Cloth, $45.00.—The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee provides the first detailed account of the abundance and distribution of the 170 confirmed breeding bird species in the state. It is the product of research conducted by the Tennessee Ornithological Society between 1986 and 1991. The first chapter, “The Atlas Project,” describes how creation of the breeding bird atlas was conducted. That chapter includes a description of the survey blocks, atlas breeding codes, and a sample of a field card used to collect the data. The author describes the need for “miniroutes” (abbreviated Breeding Bird Survey routes) to measure abundance. He also describes how the data analysis and mapping were carried out. The first chapter also has maps of Tennessee that provide details of the counties, major cities, as well as state and federal land holdings.

The second chapter, “Landscape and Ornithology of Tennessee,” comprises five sections. The first section, “The History of Tennessee Ornithology,” provides an outline of people who have studied or observed Tennessee birds, from Louis Joliet's notes about seeing and collecting Carolina Parakeets (Conuropsis carolinensis) along the Mississippi River, to the present day. The list of many people that have contributed to Tennessee ornithology includes Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, Edward Drinker Cope, and William Brewster.

The second chapter section, “The Environment of Tennessee,” describes and delineates the 10 physiographic regions of Tennessee, ranging from the Blue Ridge Province in the eastern part of the state, to the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in the west. That section also describes the state's past and present climate as well as possible climate changes that may occur in the future. The section finishes with a description of vegetation characteristic of each physiographic region and includes vegetation maps. The next section, “The Landscape of Tennessee,” describes the changes that have taken place in the state's landscape over the years. Humans arrived in Tennessee about 10,000 years ago when the state was predominantly covered by spruce-fir forest. Mixed hardwood forests appeared after the glacial retreat and are the predominant native habitat in Tennessee today. Graphs illustrate the degree of forest clearing that has taken place as well as the amount of land now devoted to agriculture. In many areas, mining and the loss of wetlands have also influenced the landscape of Tennessee. The author also provides a nice overview of the state's past and present physiognomy.

“Historic Changes in the Tennessee Avifauna” follows the landscape section in Chapter 2. As this title suggests, this section provides an account of the changes in abundance and distribution of Tennessee birds. Using historical accounts and surveys dating back to the late 1880s and comparing them to modern surveys, we learn that 26 species have expanded their range, whereas 10 species have either experienced a decrease in their breeding range or have becaome extinct in Tennessee. Using Breeding Bird Survey data, the atlas shows that 16 species have an increasing population trend, whereas 39 species are showing population declines. That section finishes with a description of conservation efforts in the state that include Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and Bald Eagle (Haleaeetus leucocephalus) restoration, and Partners in Flight efforts on behalf of songbirds.

The last section of this chapter, “An Overview and Analysis of Atlas Results,” contains the maps of atlas block and miniroute locations. It also includes the numbers and proportions of “possible,” “probable,” and “confirmed” breeding species, a list of the 20 most frequently reported species, and the proportion of Neotropical migrant species that have been detected in the state. Cluster analysis and detrended correspondence analysis are also provided to examine bird community groupings.

The third chapter, “Species Accounts,” makes up most of the book. Species are listed in taxonomic order. Each account consists of a text summary of that species abundance, distribution, and breeding biology. The descriptions are concise but informative. Accounts include maps showing where the species has been found and where the species has been granted as possible, probable, or confirmed status. Abundance of species found during miniroute surveys are displayed using contour maps. All of the maps are well done and are easy to understand, giving the reader a good idea of where and in what concentrations the species may be found. Most species accounts are accompanied by attractive line drawings contributed by Elizabeth Chastain, Chris Meyers, or David Vogt, who all contributed their talents to the book.

Following the main species accounts, the final chapter, “Miscellaneous Species,” covers the 19 species that are unconfirmed, extirpated or extinct, introduced, or hybrid breeders in the state. Each account consists of a brief description of where a particular species bred according to historical records. The only two such species that were detected during the period covered by the atlas are Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) and Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia), and distribution maps like those provided in the “Species Accounts” chapter indicate where they were found. As with the previous chapter, the miscellaneous species accounts are brief but informative.

Three appendices follow the last chapter. The first is a list of the common and scientific names of all plant and animal species mentioned throughout the book. The second appendix is a summary of breeding chronologies for each species. The table lists the ranges of dates on which eggs, nestlings, and fledglings have been found; this should be very useful for anyone studying reproductive biology of Tennessee birds. The last appendix is a list of known Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) hosts that occur in the state. Again, this table provides a quick reference for someone interested in brood parasitism in Tennessee birds.

The book concludes with an extensive (25 pages) Literature Cited section. The bibliography appears to be exhaustive and is a valuable resource for finding references on a particular species or some aspect of Tennessee natural history. In summary, this thorough, informative and well-illustrated atlas is invaluable for anyone interested in studying, finding, or learning about breeding birds in Tennessee. Although designed primarily for the professional ornithologist, the atlas would be easily comprehended by the layperson. It definitely belongs in personal as well as university and public libraries.

David A. Aborn "Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee," The Auk 118(1), 277-278, (1 January 2001).[0277:]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 January 2001
Back to Top