Here's a last-minute gift suggestion for anyone who loves books and birds: "Birds: The Art of Ornithology" by Jonathan Elphick (Rizzoli...

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Here’s a last-minute gift suggestion for anyone who loves books and birds: “Birds: The Art of Ornithology” by Jonathan Elphick (Rizzoli, 336 pp., $60).

Elphick, who has written British bird guides and handbooks, provides the text, but the real prize is the 300 color illustrations, drawn from the collection of London’s Natural History Museum.

Because it’s a London-based collection, the selection is short some key North American illustrators: Roger Tory Peterson and Robert Bateman get a mention, but their work is not included. Nonetheless, the book is a visual feast for any bird lover and a chronicle of the extremes many bird artists endured to practice their art.

Consider the Scotsman Sydney Parkinson, who sailed with James Cook on the Endeavour. “In Tahiti, he complained that he constantly had to keep the swarms of local flies off the specimens, and even that they ate the paint as he worked,” Elphick writes.

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Parkinson died of dysentery and malaria, along with about 30 of the ship’s crew, in the winter of 1770-71. But before he died he managed to make drawings of 1,300 specimens, including birds, fishes and plants.

Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times book editor