Birds of North America, Revised and Updated: A Guide To Field Identification (Golden Field Guide Series) [Paperback] Chandler S. Robbins (Author), Bertel Bruun (Author), Herbert S. Zim (Author), Arthur Singer (Illustrator)
Bertel Bruun, Guidebook Designer, Dies at 73
Published: October 4, 2011
Bertel Bruun, a co-author and designer of a hugely successful guidebook that helped make bird-watching easier for millions of binocular-toting neophytes, died on Sept. 21 at his home in Remsenburg, on Long Island. He was 73.
Times Topic: Birdwatching
Dr. Bruun, a neurologist and an amateur ornithologist, wrote or helped write more than a dozen books, but none has been more popular than “Birds of North America,” part of the Golden Field Guides series. First published in 1966, it became an instant hit with birders (a term they prefer to bird-watchers), and more than four million copies have been sold.
The guidebook built on the work of the renowned ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, whose “Field Guide to the Birds” (1934) popularized what had been an esoteric interest with a blend of science and evocative prose.
“Birds of North America,” written by Dr. Bruun with Chandler Robbins and Herbert Zim and illustrated by Arthur Singer, was a more terse and accessible handbook for those trying to discern whether it was a golden-winged warbler or an eastern wood pewee that had just fluttered away. “What is compelling about it is its utilitarian simplicity,” said Pete Dunne of New Jersey Audubon, an organization independent of the National Audubon Society.
Though Dr. Bruun wrote some of the text, perhaps his biggest contribution was designing a layout that served that simplicity. Whatever the reader needs to know about a genus or a species is presented across two pages. On the right-hand page are vivid illustrations; on the left, the information: distinguishing characteristics, behaviors, habitat, a map showing the season-by-season range across the continent. (A distinguishing characteristic of the eastern wood pewee: “Song is a plaintive, whistled pee-oo-wee, pee-oo.”)
Dr. Bruun’s layout, though no longer considered unusual, was a breakthrough. In Peterson’s guides, the illustrations (with brief summations) were on one page while the full texts were elsewhere in the book.
“In a way, even though he contributed the least amount of content, Bruun’s contribution was the most important,” said Kenn Kaufman, a field editor for Audubon magazine. “The design was just so convenient for field use that it became hugely popular right away and affected the design of almost all subsequent field guides — birds and other subjects.”
Mr. Dunne recalled how one day as a youngster he was roaming the woods near his home in northern New Jersey when he caught “a one-second glimpse of a golden-winged warbler as it hopped from one branch to another, and I recognized it. I wouldn’t have done that without this book.”
Born in Skaelskor, Denmark, on Nov. 13, 1937, Bertel Bruun was the son of Erik and Ebba Poulsen Bruun. After earning his bachelor’s and medical degrees at the University of Copenhagen, he moved in the mid-1960s to New York, where he specialized in neurology.
Besides his son Erik, Dr. Bruun is survived by his wife of 41 years, the former Ruth Dowling; two other sons, Peter and Christian; two stepsons, Timothy and Thomas Newman; a stepdaughter, Isabel Blackburn; and 15 grandchildren. His first marriage, to the former Barbara Leventhal, ended in divorce.
After a stroke left him unable to practice medicine, Dr. Bruun moved to Long Island in 1989 and, in addition to wandering the woods in search of birds, engaged in another childhood fascination. He started March of Time, a company that traded in antique toy soldiers — more than 5,000 of which lined his shelves, many posed in battle formations. In 1994 he wrote “Toy Soldiers Identification and Price Guide.”