Ibis (British Ornithologists’ Union) - 2000 142, 501-517

Ibis (British Ornithologists’ Union)
2000 142, 501-517

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5. Barn-owls to Hummingbirds.
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds)
760 pages, 76 colour plates, 406 photographs, 758 maps.
Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1999. Hardback £110. 00, ISBN: 84-87334-25-3.

Volume 5 spans the Strigiformes to Trochilidae. Families covered are Tytonidae (Barn Owls); Strigidae (typical Owls); Steatornithidae (Oilbird); Podargidae (Frogmouths); Aegothelidae (Owlet-nightjars); Nyctibiidae (Potoos); Caprimulgidae (Nightjars); Apodidae (Swifts); Hemiprocnidae (Tree-swifts); Trochilidae (Hummingbirds).

The Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) for the first time touches on scarcely known but speciose taxa (e.g. the nightjars and swifts), and gives a first impression of what is to come when it moves on to the Passerines. Apart from minor delivery problems in certain regions it has again been remarkably well on time with its self-set schedule. Overall 743 species are covered, more than in any of the previous volumes, ranging in length from a quarter-page for many hummingbirds to over 1.5 pages for the Barn Owl Tyto alba which has more than 150 references.

There are a few minor blemishes - largely a question of taste and style. An example is the tremendous variation in map scales between species and the coarse resolution for widely (e.g. globally) distributed birds. Ideally, map size should be adjusted to a species' geographic range, not the scale. This would complicate layout, and is not found in other books, so is not easily overcome. Nevertheless, some of the distribution maps are not quite up to the job. The Rufous Potoo Nyctibius bracteatus, admittedly a member of a rather poorly known group of birds is, according to the text, known to probably occur 'throughout lowland Amazonia', but it gets a big green blob on the map that appears to include the whole of the central Andes. Other, less obvious examples exist. More detailed background maps would have helped to georeference species' ranges, give an idea of potential range barriers and to avoid mistakes like these. The maps, I have been informed, will be enhanced in the volume to come.

The plates are once again mostly of outstanding quality. Some of Lewington's Swift plates are the best I have seen for this group. I believe the nightjar plates are generally better than in the recent monograph (which had the same author for the species texts), but this group still seem to provide a challenge in this respect. The hummingbird plates strike me as very good, but I was astounded by the colour and style differences among them. The changes from the genera Trochilus and Chlorostilbum to Panterpe, Elvira, and the following ones could not have been greater as far as the artists' styles are concerned. Quite astonishingly, some 110 hummingbird species are depicted in breathtaking photographs, in what must be a selection of the best photographs available for this group. This is similarly true for the other families. Last but not least, one even gets an artistic treat with the swifts on the back-cover flying over Gaudi architecture. It is after all a Catalan production!

I believe that the new volume will be very well received by its many subscribers. For those who are not subscribers, but are tempted, I think that with a successful Vol. 5 in our hands and the next on the way, the HBW project has shown that it deserves our trust. It is expensive, but is great value and unique. It clearly will be the standard work on the world's birds for a long time to come.

Walter Jetz, © 2000 British Ornithologists’ Union