Peterson Reference Guides: Behavior of North American Mammals

Reviewed by: Jenn Marshman
Categories: Conservation - Wildlife
Behavior of North American Mammals book review A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Behavior of North American Mammals \ Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart

Roger Tory Peterson, one of the world’s greatest and most decorated naturalists, literally invented the modern field guide. His Guide to the Birds, published in 1934, broke new ground by targeting neophytes instead of specialists. It launched an award-winning career in which Peterson played a key role in fostering broader environmental awareness. In Behavior of North American Mammals, UC-Davis biologist Mark Elbroch and Vermont wildlife ecologist Kurt Rinehart ably carry on Peterson’s legacy.

The quality of Peterson Reference Guides is always high, and Behavior of North American Mammals is no exception. It is a great read whether at home on the couch or out in the field wearing muddy hiking boots. The guide delves deep into a wide range of animals’ specific behaviours, and contains plenty for readers who want to learn more than can be found in more traditional, identification-focused field guides.

Each mammal’s behaviour is considered in eight separate ways: activity and movement; food and foraging; habitat and home range; communication; courtship and mating; development and dispersal of young; interactions among the species; and interactions with other species. The approach to each category is described in detail at the beginning of the guide, which also contains a glossary, bibliography and index for easy navigation. The book does have one organizational weakness: unless you already know the order and family of the mammal you want to read about, the book’s contents section won’t be of much help. To search for common animal names, readers will need to use the index instead.   

Gorgeous colour photographs showing different animals in action are accompanied by both common and lesser-known facts. For example, porcupines have a very poor mineral metabolism that causes them to seek out salt in their diet. This can lead them to some pretty unconventional foods, such as hikers’ backpacks and even discarded rubber tires! Some readers may also believe that opossums “play” dead, but Behavior of North American Mammals will clarify the fact that they aren’t really playing at all. The continent’s only marsupial actually enters a catatonic state when frightened.

As an avid naturalist, I’m always looking for great reference books to enhance my understanding of natural phenomena, and this book is a useful tool for understanding more about how animals behave and why they do so, whether your interest is casual or you’re a budding wildlife biologist. 

Peterson Reference Guides: Behavior of North American Mammals, Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, 374 pages

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Reviewer Information

Jenn Marshman is an environmentalist who has worked in the health care industry since 1998. She is currently studying geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo.

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