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MSU’S RASMUSSEN UPDATES AUTHORITATIVE ‘BIRDS OF SOUTH ASIA’

 

When it comes to the birds of South Asia, Pamela Rasmussen wrote the book on it. Literally. Twice.
 
Magpies
Rasmussen recently completed the second edition of “Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide,” the most comprehensive resource detailing avifauna in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
 
Rasmussen is assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum and assistant professor of zoology in the Department of Zoology and is an internationally recognized ornithologist who often works with South Asian resident researchers.  
 
“Birds of South Asia” is produced jointly by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., Michigan State University Museum and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, and Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 
 
The second edition includes the newest findings on taxonomy and vocalizations, including several species newly recorded in the region, and additional newly recognized species.  In addition the field guide volume now has short vocal descriptions, making it more user-friendly.
 
Rasmussen worked with co-author and scientific illustrator John C. Anderton, who created many of the 180 “plates,” or pages filled with illustrations from different vantage points – in flight, at prey and perched -- that accurately depict distinctive features such as eyes, beaks, feet and plumage variations.
 
Besides identifying birds visually, the sounds they make are crucial to distinguishing one bird from another. Rasmussen has pioneered work internationally to document and catalog those sounds. Also included in “Birds of South Asia” are sonograms (or audiospectrographs) that visually chart the sounds of pitch, pattern, rhythm, and tempo and their unique whistles, trills, chirps, warbles, quacks, and screeches.
 
Meanwhile, range maps, using museum specimen data, show species' habitats, distributions, migration, endemism and abundance. 
 
The two volumes are now produced with advancements in color reproduction and are in soft-cover and lighter – important for work in the field, Rasmussen says. 
 
Ahead of its publication, Rasmussen previewed new findings for a gathering last November, addressing the International Conference on Indian Ornithology, in Tamil Nadu, South India, with support from the Asian Studies Center and the MSU Museum. The book even includes a new species observed for the first time this year and detailed in the latest issue of “BirdingASIA” journal, a Great Nicobar Crake photographed foraging on Great Nicobar Island, in the south-easternmost extremity of India in the Govind Nagar tsunami shelter, an area occupied recently by people displaced by the 2004 tsunami. 
Hornbills
Rasmussen began work on the earlier edition of “Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide” as a research associate with renowned ornithologist and former Smithsonian director, S. Dillon Ripley. She took over the project when he became too ill to continue, and the first edition was ultimately published in 2005.
 
At MSU, where she is assistant professor of zoology, Rasmussen founded the Avian Vocalization Center, a database providing free downloads of bird sounds from around the world, sonograms, photos and maps of more than 4,000 species, a resource used extensively in preparing the second edition of “Birds of South Asia”. (Learn more -- and listen to bird sounds here.)
 
Rasmussen is active curating MSU Museum exhibitions and developing education programs for the natural science and culture museum at Michigan State University and the state’s first Smithsonian affiliate. She is co-curator of the museum’s new exhibit, “Echoes of Silent Spring: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness,” and is in the planning stages for an exhibit with the Smithsonian Institution and museums around the U.S. in 2014 observing the 100th anniversary of the extinction of passenger pigeon.   
 
Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide
Pamela C. Rasmussen & John C. Anderton
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Chagos Islands, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, southern Tibet, Sri Lanka, and west Myanmar
Vol. 1 (Field Guide): 384 pages; Vol. 2: 688 pages
3,400 illustrations, 180 plates, 1,450 maps
vocalization sonograms
 
Images: 
Top, right: Magpies, Jays and Treepies. 
 
Bottom, right: Hornbills.