Saturday, November 24, 2012

Coming Soon: A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds

The cover, featuring two
squabbling Boluochia
As some of you may have seen when I teased this on Facebook a few weeks ago, I've gone and written a book! With the pithy, concise title of A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and Other Winged Dinosaurs, this has been nearly three years in the making, and should be available soon through my website and Amazon.com.

As the name implies, the book is a heavily illustrated "field guide" style summary of known "birds" from the dinosaur era (including deinonychosaurians, caenagnathiformes, and avialans), focusing on most likely life appearances and highlighting what kinds of features may have distinguished each species in life. The book also contains a lengthy introductory section on bird evolution, and on the principles that help in reconstructing life appearance (such as feather arrangement, inferring coloration, distribution of feather types, etc.). Some of this is adapted from research I'd done previously for DinoGoss (such as the section on feather colors), but expanded and updated, and most of it consists of brand new material. The artwork is also pretty much all-new; while some of it had originally been uploaded to my DeviantArt profile (some of you may have seen my entry on caudipterids), most of those pieces ended up being completely re-drawn by the time the book was finished.

The Field Guide covers over 150 species, usually illustrated in multiple views (chosen based on ecology, and with dorsal-view wingspan profiles where appropriate), and each comes with one of my obligatory scale charts. By the time I was finished, I was surprised by how hefty the book turned out. The original conception for the book, as suggested by John Conway, had been to illustrate all "reconstructible" aviremigians--by that, I assume he meant stuff with pretty much complete skeletons. I tried to limit myself to anything with something both distinguishable and visible in life (and pretty much anything with any skull material) despite the urge to produce a few super-speculative pieces (one or two of which made it into the final cut). Anything that couldn't solidly be reconstructed based on skeletal evidence or at least decent phylogenetic bracketing is relegated to an appendix listing all excluded species, but even so, I was a bit surprised that I could manage nearly 150 pretty well-supported illustrations.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately given that it would have taken me another two years to finish), I was just wrapping this book up when two surprising pieces of news surfaced--one, the discovery of pennaceous feathers in ornithomimosaurs, making all of Maniraptoriformes possible aviremigians, and news of a forthcoming study which finds microraptorians, unenlagiines, and troodontids to be avialans and scansoriopterygids to be basal coelurosaurs (potentially making most of coelurosauria aviremigians!). I did manage to include a little discussion of the former in the book, but it will be interesting to read the details of the latter in December. If Scansoriopteryx, which seems to have vaned wing feathers, is actually a fairly basal coelurosaur, a pretty massive supplementary volume may be in order.
Preview of an interior spread featuring Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx.

As I mentioned above, the impetus for this project really came from John Conway, who suggested a guide to all aviremigians based on my field guide style drawings on dA. Unbeknownst to John, I had actually been planning a field guide to the Yixian fauna and flora at the time, but a really comprehensive guide to all Mesozoic "birds" seemed like too good an idea to pass up. John also suggested the idea to self-publish rather than seek traditional publication, which he has been discussing lately on his tumblr.

Due to the vagaries of the publication process, I don't have a definite release date yet, but barring any major hurdles the Guide should be available to order online in paperback before the end of December, so start writing those letters to Santa! Retail price is $36.95 plus shipping from Amazon US or CreateSpace Direct, and it will likely be available at around £25 from Amazon UK and around 36 from Amazon Europe.


22 comments:

  1. Guess this will be THE BOOK of my library. Really, thank you.
    I really can't wait for it and every single penny is worth for it. I was looking for a similar book and you made my wish come true. Now I'll just sit and wait.

    "news of a forthcoming study which finds microraptorians, unenlagiines, and troodontids to be avialans and scansoriopterygids to be basal coelurosaurs"
    Wait, WHAT? Where? Who? God, sounds exciting

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  2. Thanks! The new phylogeny is part of an upcoming book, abstract is here:
    http://www.amazon.com/Avian-Ancestors-Relationships-Scansoriopterygidae-SpringerBriefs/dp/9400756364/

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  3. Will be any way for we Canadian folks to acquire a copy? Amazon.com and .uk won't ship to Canada D:

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    1. Amazon.com does ship to Canada. I've used it before.

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  4. Pending the publication of the Agnolin and Novas study (I'm very interested to read the evidence for such new topology, given a few similarities with the most recent results of my phylogenetic analysis...), it's unclear what "basal coelurosaurs" means in that abstract. Although most of us uses "basal coelurosaurs" as "compsognathid-grade" or "non-maniraptoriform" or "less derived than Tyrannosauroidea", perhaps in that context it merely may mean "non-paravian".

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  5. Hi, I have a question about your book let me know when will be available and what will be its distrubution area or where I find for purchase, I'ma paleobiologist mu Mexico and am interested in buying

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  6. @Andrea
    True, though that would be very misleading if they could simply have written 'basal maniraptorans' or something. Guess we need to WFTP.

    @taichara and Aldo
    As far as I know the book will become available for international distribution on Amazon.ca etc. about 6 weeks after publication, but unfortunately I don't have info yet on pricing or shipping costs. Purchasing directly from CreateSpace may be a better alternative, depending on shipping costs. I'll be sure to post links here as soon as it starts rolling out in a few weeks!

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  7. @Matthew:

    That sounds awesome; I don't mind waiting the extra time, if it comes to that. I'll look into purchasing directly from Createspace also. Thank you! :3

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  8. That looks like an amazing book- what GSP's "field guide" was supposed to be, but done right this time. And you got Caudipteryx's tail fans right!

    As for Agnolin and Novas (2012), based on their last foray into coelurosaur phylogeny, I'm wary of these results- http://theropoddatabase.blogspot.com/2012/01/agnolin-and-novass-2011-cheating-for.html

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  9. This is interesting. I should point out, thought, that regardless of convention (as in bird-related topologies) "Oviraptorosauria" is used for the same effective group as "Caenagnathiformes" and far, far more often -- and without the Linnaean baggage that is the reason there are so many avian "orders" with -iformes attached to their named.

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  10. And yet Caenagnathiformes has 36 years of priority and we have no rules for taxa above the family group.

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  11. Wonderful news ! I wonder if I could order your boook from Switzerland... Amazon Europe maybe ? Still, there is also a third piece of news that could interest you; the new paper by Longrish and Co about the arm feathers arrangement in anchironis and archaeopteryx.

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  12. Looks great Matty, congratulations! Will some of your scale charts use the Voyager female silhouette? There are too many palaeo books for me to be able to purchase all of them so I am limiting myself to those that contain naked ladies.

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  13. does this book include actual birds like hespeornis, ichthyornis and Confuciusornis?

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  14. @Anonymous
    Yes, it includes all Mesozoic paravians--whether or not Ichthyornis, Confuciusornis etc. are birds depends on what you mean by "bird" and where you place the label "Aves" on the dinosaur family tree. But it also includes a few things that are "actual birds" under any definition!

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  15. This is the dinosaur book I have been looking for. I will definitely be purchasing this. Thank you. Now all I need is a decent pterosaur and mesozoic plant guide and I will be all set!

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    1. Well as of June next year, you'll be set for the former: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9967.html

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  16. Hi, got any news about the release date? Can't wait to read that book :)

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    1. I found it on amazon and bought it!

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  17. And yet Caenagnathiformes has 36 years of priority and we have no rules for taxa above the family group.

    In particular, the rule of priority doesn't exist above the family group of ranks.

    Amazon Europe maybe ?

    Doesn't exist, but there's probably an amazon.ch. I know that amazon.co.uk, amazon.fr, amazon.it, amazon.de, and even amazon.at exist.

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