Scottish Birds , 36:3 (2016), p. 231

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Bird Families of the World. David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman & Irby J. Lovette, 2015. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, ISBN: 9788494189203, hardback, 599 pages, £69.99.

The study of bird diversity is a life-enriching experience and this book allows the reader to marvel at avian diversity throughout its wonderfully illustrated pages.

The book has been designed to serve both as a text for ornithology courses and as a resource for serious bird enthusiasts of all levels. Technical terminology is much reduced, and all scientific terms used are defined in a glossary. Introductory material describes the scope and concepts behind the classification used.

The bulk of the book is a family by family account of the birds of the world. Each family is represented by at least a two-page spread, including a distributional map with the breeding, non-breeding and year-round ranges of each family, a short text inviting the reader to learn more, standardized descriptions of the appearance, relationships and similar species to each member in the family, their life history and conservation status. Each account includes a review of recent ideas about the relationships of the family to other families and relationships within it. The work is liberally illustrated by photographs from bird enthusiasts around the globe as well as paintings of one species from each of the genera.

The classification of birds is in a state of flux and new molecular research has changed our understanding of evolutionary relationships. For example, falcons were traditionally grouped with other diurnal birds of prey, however, I was surprised to learn that the latest classification splits falcons from other birds of prey and places them closer to parrots, owls and cuckoos.

This book provides a good overview of the world’s bird families; however, some readers may be frustrated by the lack of detail on species. The authors stress that families provide us with a more manageable framework for understanding bird diversity and evolutionary relationships. If you are looking for a book which celebrates bird diversity and do not wish to fork out on all 16 volumes of the Handbook of the Birds of the World this book certainly provides a worthy alternative.

Mike Thornton