Review:  THE UNFEATHERED BIRD, Katrina van Grouw, Princeton University Press, 2013.



As a volunteer at the American Museum of Natural History I spend a good deal of my time presenting the Museum’s bird and dinosaur halls to school classes and other visitors.  I have found that the best way to gain an intimate understanding of what makes a bird a bird and of the evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs is to work from the inside out.  Whenever possible, I start talking about birds by showing the group an articulated pigeon skeleton – pointing out the keeled breastbone which serves as a massive attachment point for the flight muscles, drawing attention to the hole in the hip socket which birds have inherited from their dinosaur ancestors and explaining that bird’s knees do not articulate backwards.   (Many people, even experienced birders, confuse a bird’s knees with its ankles because there is little movement of the thigh when a bird walks.  The principal purpose of the thigh it to keep the bird upright.)  I often wish that I could disarticulate the skeleton to clarify some anatomical details.


Katrina van Grouw, in her newly published THE UNFEATHERED BIRD, has given bird lovers a gorgeous new atlas to guide us to a far more intimate understanding and appreciation of birds than has been possible for all but those who have the freedom to rummage through museum collections. Ms. Von Grouw is a former curator of the ornithological collections at London’s Natural History Museum, a taxidermist, a bird bander, and a fine artist.  She has been the beneficiary of countless donations of dead birds which she has lovingly cleaned, articulated, and drawn in a years-long effort to bring something startlingly new and beautiful to the literature, science, and art of birds. THE UNFEATHERED BIRD is a treasure trove of 585 stunning anatomical drawings of 200 bird species in various states of undress.  She offers beautiful, enlightening illustrations of musculature and details of eyes, orbits, bills, ears, feet, skulls, wings, tongues, bones.  Her drawings would be sufficient by themselves, but Ms. Von Grouw has also  provided a thorough, accurate, and accessible text which further explains anatomical details and evolutionary relationships.


There is nothing in the literature of birds or bird art that is anything like THE UNFEATHERED BIRD.  Anyone who loves birds and bird art will want this volume.  Brava to Katrina van Grouw for this gorgeous treasure, and bravo to Princeton University Press for publishing it.  

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