South Dakota Bird Notes - 52 (2):44, June 2000

South Dakota Bird Notes
52 (2):44, June 2000

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 5 Barn-owls to Hummingbirds. 1999. J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, Eds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Hardcover. 759 pp. $185.00 (substantial discounts are available -see www.hbw.com).

This stunning series continues to be a must purchase for anyone more than casually interested in birds. The birds of the world are covered here in introductory passages at the family level, with lavish color photographs (406 of them), followed by illustrated species accounts (76 color plates) with range maps.

I will not repeat details of the series’ organization and layout, since these have been covered in previous reviews. Birds included in this volume are the barn-owls, owls, Caprimulgiformes (nightjars, potoos, frogmouths, oilbirds and others), swifts, tree swifts, and hummingbirds. Perhaps the extraordinary color photographs are what set this series so far apart from anything else in ornithological literature. Some stunning examples include the senatorial-looking Crested Owl, a South American bird with half-foot long protruding white "eye brows;" a Great Horned Owl peering over a Southwest US redrock canyon (a photograph that belongs in an art gallery); owlet nightjars that look more like strange mammals than birds; frogmouths and potoos that are perfectly camouflaged with their perches; swifts congregating behind Iguazu Falls in Argentina; and a plethora of fabulous hummingbirds, including a woodstar excreting waste as it sucks nectar -apparently transit time of nutrients through hummingbird digestive systems may be less than 15 minutes due to "the high number of glucose transporters in its intestinal tissue." This list is just a minute example of the wonders to be found within this book.

The color illustrations, by 19 artists, are uniformly excellent. The hummingbird plates by E. Barnes and H. D. Pratt are particularly stunning. Many books that cover individual bird families of the world are appearing on the market. Rather than purchasing these, I would recommend these volumes instead.

I noticed more of a conservation focus to this volume, compared to the previous ones in the series. Perhaps this emphasis is due to so many tropical species being endangered by deforestation. However, the introduction, "Risk Indicators and Status Assessment in Birds," seems particularly addressed to conservation workers rather than to a more general audience. It includes, for example, several pages describing the World Conservation Union’s criteria for describing the status of birds of the world. For better or worse, I suspect most readers will have little use for this information. I also noticed more of an emphasis on ethno-ornithology -the role of birds in folklore and literature. This focus greatly adds to the value of the book.

The dust jacket claims there are about 8000 bibliographical references contained within Volume 5. The references are actually the most serious criticism I can offer on the book. They appear as single units at the end of each species account and as general bibliography following each family section. In the text itself, individual facts are not referenced appropriately (or at all, for that matter). Thus easily checking material at the primary source is difficult, if not impossible, a major drawback to an otherwise perfect series.

If you cannot afford these texts, by all means encourage your local library to make this purchase. You and your community will have an invaluable source of information about the birds of the world.

Dan Tallman, Northern State University, Aberdeen SD 57401.