Journal of Field Ornithology, Vol. 87, No. 3, pp 339-340

View in PDF


David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman and Irby J. Lovette. 2015. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. 600 pages, 243 distribution maps, ~750 color photos and 2336 bird figures (all genera illustrated). ISBN 9788494189203.$96.98 (Hardcover).

Bird Families of the World is a beautiful volume that provides an overview of all avian families. It is co-published by Lynx Edicions and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and, like the17-volume series that describes all avian species, is full of photographs and drawings to illustrate avian diversity. This book relies on the latest research on avian classification, providing an up-to-date picture of avian phylogeny and acknowledging areas of conflict or areas where current studies still fail to resolve relationships robustly. This volume splits birds into 243 families in 36 orders (including the formal description of three new families). Although it does not follow a specific published classification, the non-passerine classification is very similar to that in the Handbook of the Birds of the World and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Volume 1, Non-passerines (del Hoyo et al. 2014), and it is likely that the classification of passerines will be similar to that in the forthcoming second volume of this checklist that will focus on passerines.

The book is written to appeal to a variety of audiences, including the bird enthusiast, bird watcher, student of ornithology, teacher of ornithology, and anyone else who wants an introduction to (or a refresher on) avian diversity and the modern classification of birds. Given some of the changes in recent classification of birds, even those who know birds well may find this helpful. For those less familiar with birds, there is a glossary at the back to describe (the relatively few) technical terms that are used to describe characteristics of each family. In addition, the introductory chapter provides some material to familiarize readers with background information such as an overview of the Linnaean classification system. Using illustrations and specific examples, the authors provide a primer to interpreting and understanding phylogenetic trees, and discuss challenges that occur when assigning species to families and orders. This discussion is likely to help readers who are less knowledgeable regarding systematics and provides background information describing why some families are small, specialized, or recently described, whereas others are large and appear to cover greater diversity.

Beyond providing a survey of avian classification, the book also briefly covers topics as diverse as speciation, extinction, and biogeography. As the authors point out, despite their ability to fly, many bird families are restricted to specific continents. Of interest is the pattern of endemism among families, in which the Australasian region has the largest number of endemic families, and the Nearctic has the least (only one). Although this introductory material may not be of interest to all readers, and some may find aspects of it challenging to understand without a careful reading, for those who are interested, this should provide some insight concerning these issues and provide an overview of avian diversity.

Most of the book is devoted to descriptions of each of the 243 families. Each order is introduced with several paragraphs of material, then each family within that order is covered (a phylogenetic tree of the orders considered, and their relationships to each other is provided in the introduction to illustrate the evolutionary relationships among the orders). For the largest avian order, the Passeriformes (perching birds), which encompasses over 50% of all avian species, families are grouped into suborders or other groupings (e.g., suboscines and Corvoidea) to assist readers in organizing this vast diversity. The major groups that are used are shown in a phylogenetic tree of Passeriformes to help readers understand the relationships among these groups. Each group is given a brief introduction similar to that for orders among the non-passerines, followed by the family descriptions in that group. Passerine classification has been in more flux than other parts of the avian tree of life, and the paragraph on phylogenetic relationships for each family covers some of these recent changes, which will be of help to readers who may be familiar with older, different classifications.

The information presented is structured similarly for each family, providing consistency in both layout and content throughout the book, making it easy to find specific information in each section. The number of genera and species within a family is provided. Information is then provided about the morphological characteristics typical of species within the family, habitat, diet, breeding, and an overview of conservation issues within the family (such as indicating the number of species that are of conservation concern). Information about related families and phylogenetic relationships is provided for each family, as well as some examples of other birds that are similar (although often phylogenetically distinct). A section that includes interesting facts, such as displays or nesting behaviors, is also provided, to give the reader a flavor for some of the other characteristics of each family. For many families, further subdivision into subfamilies and tribes is also shown in the clustering of the illustrations for each genus. Although this can help a reader recognize that some families may contain distinct groupings, there is no descriptive information provided to illustrate the differences among each subfamily or tribe.

In addition to the text, a silhouette of the smallest and largest species in each family is shown alongside a silhouette of a human (or part of one, such as a hand) to provide a visual guide to relative sizes of the species in a family. A range map shows the collective distributions of the species in the family. Each family description contains several photographs, as well as an example illustration (taken from Handbook of Birds of the World) of a representative of each genus within the family. Thus, the beautiful illustrations in this volume are also informative; readers can observe much of the diversity of birds through the images provided.

Overall, this volume manages to convey a large amount of information that will be useful or of interest to a wide range of readers. Because it covers all avian families in a single volume, this book is really designed to provide an introduction to each family and is certainly not a definitive treatise on the variation in each family. However, those who find that the information stimulates their interest in a specific group can seek other sources for a more thorough treatment of a particular family.

Rebecca T. Kimball, Biology Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA, rkimball@ufl.edu

 

LITERATURE CITED

DEL HOYO, J., N. J. COLLAR, D. A. CHRISTIE, A. ELLIOTT, AND L. D. C. FISHPOOL. 2014. Handbook of the birds of the world and the BirdLife International illustrated checklist of the birds of the world, vol. 1, non-passerines. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

 

© 2016 Association of Field Ornithologists

doi: 10.1111/jofo.12162