Biological Conservation - Vol. 103: 375-376; 2002

Biological Conservation
Vol. 103: 375-376; 2002

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills

Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2001, 589 pages, ISBN 84-87334-30X. Price £110.

Reviewers are rapidly exhausting superlatives to describe this series, the first to illustrate all species in a class of the animal kingdom. Likewise, I was astounded by the comprehensiveness and quality of this volume, features that have already become its trademark. Volume 6 covers the mousebirds (six species), trogons (39 species), kingfishers (92 species), todies (five species), motmots (10 species), bee-eaters (25 species), rollers (12 species), ground-rollers (five species), woodhoopoes (eight species), hornbills (54 species) and a single species each of the cuckoo-roller and the hoopoe. Thirteen authorities provide detailed family accounts that are illustrated with 46 beautiful colour plates, further enhanced by 383 photographs. In addition, 258 distribution maps accompany the species accounts making the end product of the highest quality.

Donald Kroodsma and the late Luis Baptista present a foreword entitled Avian Bioacoustics. With the premature death of the latter, Donald Kroodsma describes its compilation as "a labor of love". The result is both a fitting tribute to Luis Baptista (who contributed so much to the study of bird song) and a wonderful account of current thinking and of future research directions in this exciting field.

The success of this series lies in its appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. Professional ornithologists are provided with all of the information they could require about a given species - bibliographic sections in species accounts provide in excess of 4000 citations - while those less focused are likewise showered with an embarrassment of riches. For example, we are told about the strict queuing system in Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) chicks - for the first two weeks, chicks sit in a circle in the nest chamber, only the chick nearest the tunnel entrance gapes, calls and is fed, and then all rotate (cheaters are not tolerated); the defense system of Hoopoe (Upupa epops) chicks in which chicks as young as four days old squirt pungent fluid from modified uropygial glands at nest cavity intruders; and the cultural transmission of a foraging strategy in Green Woodhoopoes (Phoeniculus purpureus) where two 'founder' birds learned to take food from chicks of other species immediately after they had been fed and this habit spread through the entire flock. Such information lies deep in the ornithological literature but it has now been mined for our delectation.

I echo the sentiments of reviewers of earlier volumes (e.g. Duffey 2000). The volume is invaluable to conservationists. For example, the plight of many hornbill (Bucerotidae) species makes for harrowing reading. They are hunted heavily in many parts of the world for their meat. As a result, there are fewer than 100 adult Rufous-headed Hornbills (Aceros waldeni) remaining after incidents like that in Panay in 1997 where in one day 40 hornbills, including many of this species, were shot at a single fruiting tree. Furthermore, we are warned that taxonomic reassessment may result in Tickell's Brown Hornbill (Anorrhinus tickelli) becoming Threatened, as opposed to Vulnerable (under IUCN criteria), should it be split from the Plain-pouched Hornbill.

If the remainder of the series is only half as visually stunning and informative as this volume, we are in for an ornithological treat. This and previous volumes can be purchased through specialist bookshops or directly from Lynx Edicions, Passeig de Gràcia, 12, E-08007 Barcelona, Spain (http://www.hbw.com).

by Jim Reynolds
Department of Biology,
University of Memphis,
Memphis, TN 38152, USA
E-mail address: jreynlds@memphis.edu