BBC Wildlife - August 2002

BBC Wildlife
August 2002

Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 7: Jacamars to woodpeckers edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal Lynx Edicions 613pp, £110, ISBN 8487334377(hb)

And the juggernaut rolls on. With this volume, HBW reaches the last of the hundred or so families of non-passerine birds. Under the original plan, we would now be just over halfway through the sequence, but as the editors explain, the original 12 volumes have been expanded to a mammoth 16 - giving you time to build that new bookcase you'll need to accommodate it all.

In a welcome departure from the usual behaviour of publishers, Lynx Edicions commissioned a survey of readers and found that 93 per cent were in favour of extending the series to allow for greater detail - a resounding endorsement of the high standards already set. As a result, the world's 80 passerine families (totalling almost 6,000 species) will get the treatment they deserve. The only people likely to be disappointed are fans of weavers, sparrows and New World orioles - groups that will not appear until the final volume.

Meanwhile, what of this one? Of the six families included -jacamars, puffbirds, barbets, toucans, honeyguides and woodpeckers - only woodpeckers are of immediate relevance to British readers. And, given that only 4 of the world's 216 woodpecker species occur here, this is fairly limited. But there is still plenty to capture even the casual reader's imagination.

As with some of the previous volumes, this starts with an essay on an unrelated topic: extinct birds, written by Errol Fuller. Combining rigorous scholarship and an infectious enthusiasm for the subject, it is worth a look even if you have already read his excellent book on the same subject. Given the recent report revealing that one in eight of the world's bird species is under threat, it is very timely.

The rest of the volume is, if anything, even more lavishly illustrated than its predecessors, with an array of photographs that are both informative and artistic in equal measure. The essays on each family are also models of clarity: at more than 120 pages long, the chapter on woodpeckers is virtually a book in itself.

As always, a volume that at first sight might seem inaccessible, heavyweight and expensive has proven itself to be readable, compelling, and excellent value for money. Bring on the passerines!

by Stephen Moss