The Auk - 120(3):919-920, 2003

The Auk
120(3):919-920, 2003

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 7. _ Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliot, and Jordi Sargatal (Eds.) 2002. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona , Spain, 613 pp.,70 color plates, 317 photographs, 408 distribution maps.ISBN 84-87334-37. $185,00.

Inaugurated 11 years ago, publication of this elegant series is now approaching the halfway mark with appearance of volume 7, which includes two families of the Gabuliformes (Gabulidae, Jacamars; Bucconidae, Puffbirds) and four families of the Piciformes (Capitonidae, Barbets; Ramphasitidae, Toucans; Indicatoridae, Honeyguides; Picidae, Woodpeckers). Thus, all nonpasserine groups have now been covered. Useful pictorial and alphabetical indices, mounted in plastic on single sheet, are included with the book as a loose insert.

Those indices cover all taxa that comprise the first seven volumes. The remaining 9 volumes on passerines will extend the projected total to 16, allowing more extensive treatment in view of the burgeoning literature and the increasing availability of the high quality illustrative material. (The original intention of holding the series to 12 volumes was abandoned after massive response to a questionnaire included with volume 6 (almost 3,000 replies from over 40 countries!) indicated an overwhelming preference for expanded coverage).

Following a theme instituted in earlier volumes in which special topics are reviewed in major essays, volume 7 starts with an elaborate 57-page foreword by E. Fuller on recently extinct birds (starting with the year 1600), introduced with a life-size color photo of an egg of the Great Elephantbird (Aepyornis maximus). Most species that are certainly extinct or probably extinct are illustrated in color. A worthy discussion of "Hypothetical Species and Mystery Birds" illuminates the serious problems attending taxonomic allocation of recently extinct birds, not the least of which has been the suspect original "naming" of more then few entities on the basis of skimpy specimens, sketches, or paintings by early traveller-naturalists with no real ornithological qualifications. Further, some "extinct" and other mystery birds have turned out, upon inspection, to be hybrids. Fuller's scholarly essay is an exceptionally fine read.

As in international enterprise, 10 authors wrote this volume, including D. Christie, N. Collar, E. Fuller, J. Horne, T. de Melo-Júnior , P. Rasmussen, L. Short, J. Tobias, H. Wrinkler, and T. Züchner. Sixteen illustrators prepared the color plates. W. J. Bock and N. J. Collar served as consultants for systematics and nomenclature and status and conservation respectively.

The heart of the book follows the successful format established early in the series, in which each family is introduced by substantial essay dealing with sistematics, morphology, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationships with humans, and status conservation. Many species, including rare and little-known forms, are highlighted by vivid color photographs whose long captions describe special feature of appearance, natural history, and behaviour. The plates are uniformly magnificent. These are typically positioned on the left to face the first cluster of species accounts placed on the right and on pages to follow, enabling rapid comparison of appearance and text.

The species accounts follow the now-familiar format of organization under the English vernacular name and scientific binomial followed by French, German, and Spanish translations, other English common names, if any, and principal categories for taxonomy, subspecies and distribution, habitat, food, and feeding, breeding, movements, status and conservation. Each account terminates with a bibliography, totalling 4000 references for all species. That wealth of references reflects both the pains taking scholarship of the authors and editors and their overriding goal of preparing a useful, information-packed volume. This has result in much dense, fine print. Despite the incipient myopia thereby encouraged, the accounts are attractive, easy to follow, and impressively current. Even the flashy Scarlet-belted Barbet (Capito Wallacei), described by J. O'Neill and associates in 2000 and whose known range is but a flyspeck in Loreto, Peru, is included.

A small, broad-brush range map for each species is cantered on the pertinent species account, typically within at least a few pages of the relevant color plate and often directly across from it. Those maps allow quick appraisal of general distribution without requiring a search for such information on nearby pages. It is readily apparent that many species with small ranges have relatively tiny ranges. Of those, some are common where they occur; others are not so fortunate. The fact that many species with small ranges have distributional strongholds only in parks and reserves is unsurprising, but discouraging. Deservedly, conservation is a major theme throughout this book. Repeatedly, in the encapsulations of status and distribution, it is noted that too little is known to allow intelligent estimates of population sizes. As a popular Berkeley t-shirt reads, "so many species, so little time".

The color plates are notable for their routine inclusion of subspecies. Species limits of substantial number of taxa remain uncertain, underscoring the need for research on reproductive isolating mechanisms, especially of allopatric close relatives. Some of the most strikingly colored birds on the planet are covered by volume 7, so it is easy to be overwhelmed by the bewildering panoply of plumages and patterns depicted in the plates and photos. Because of the sobering reality that only an absurdly small proportion of the world's birds are known more than superficially by any individual student, the vicarious experience offered by the plates, photos, maps, and text of these volumes stands as a major attribute.

The appearance of each volume, in this series has met with widespread acclaim, all of it justified, because the publication of these magnificent themes has been a class act from the start. We can enthusiastically anticipate the appearance of the future volumes. All significant ornithological libraries should contain the complete series. Furthermore, as a monumental reference work for biologists at large, it will have general appeal and utility for students, teachers, researchers, wildlife managers, and conservationists whose specific interests in natural science lie beyond birds.

By Ned K. Johnson Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 97420-3160 USA