British Birds - 93:206-208, April 2000

British Birds
93:206-208, April 2000

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 5, Barn-owls to Hummingbirds

Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott & Jordi Sargatal. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 1999. 759 pages; 76 colour plates; numerous photographs; box features; 736 species accounts with maps. ISBN 84-87334-25-3. Hardback, £ 110.00.

In praising earlier volumes of this astonishing tour de force, HBW reviewers have practically exhausted the lexicon of superlatives. This volume is of exactly the same very high standard, which can hardly be improved upon. A true handbook, it is a weighty, handsome, magnificently illustrated, authoritative, comprehensive, up-to-date compilation of biological information concerning one-twelfth of the World’s birds: the barn-owls, strigid owls, nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds and their bizarre and ler-known relatives. Each species account is complete, with a colour map of World range, taxonomic and descriptive notes, a list of subspecies, mini-essays on habitat, foraging, breeding and movements, a responsible statement on status and conservation, and an ample bibliography. All species and many subspecies are portrayed in the delightful and informative plates, by 19 renowned artists who have somehow been persuaded to paint in similar styles.

The orders embrace ten families, each starting with a lengthy and scholarly but easy-to-read essay, generously illustrated with new and stunning colour photographs, with well-researched discussion of systematics, morphology, habitat, habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with Man, and status and conservation. Some essays summarise what follows in the species accounts, and others go much farther: the hummingbird and owl family essays amount to 175 pages. You will be enthralled to read them and delighted by the photographs depicting the weird and wonderful lives of oilbirds, frogmouths, potoos, owlet-nightjars and tree-swifts (to titillate you with some of the less familiar family names). Wonderful birds!

Pervading the entire work is the conservation message, so ably spelled out by Nigel Collar in his 16-page Foreword to this volume, which should be compulsory reading for all of the World’s politicians, developers and consumers –i.e. all of us– for it tells what will be the shape of life on Earth before we have moved very far into this new millennium.

C. H. Fry