The Wilson Bulletin - December 2004

The Wilson Bulletin
December 2004

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD, VOLUME 8: BROADBILLS TO TAPACULOS. Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott, and David Christie. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. 2003: 845 pp., 81 color plates, over 470 color photographs, 672 maps. ISBN: 8487334504, $195.00 (cloth).

Volume 8 marks the commencement of the Passerifomes, almost a second beginning for this landmark series. A Foreword on the history of avian taxonomy by Murray Bruce leads off the book, starting in ancient Greece and continuing to today. This tome contains information about a wide variety of families: members of the brightly colored Eurylaimidae (broadbills), Philepittidae (asites), and Pittidae (pittas) contrast with members of the more subdued Furnariidae (ovenbirds), Dendrocolaptidae (woodcreepers), Tharnnophilidae (typical antbirds), Formicariidae (ground-antbirds), Conopophagidae (gnateaters), and Rhinpcryptidae (tapaculos). The format of volume 8 is much the same as it was in earlier volumes in the series, as one would expect. The, treatment for each taxonomic family begins with a brief overview, highlighted in a green box, that includes a brief family description, the range of body sizes, geographical distributions, habitats, and the number of taxa in the family including those that are threatened or extinct. A more complete discussion of the family immediately follows in text, with sections on systematics, morphological aspects, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationships with man, and status and conservation.

Liberally illustrated with color photographs, every two-page spread contains one or more stunning images that portray a wide range of family members and behaviors. Generally, the photos are very sharp, large in size, and full of life not static, stiff portraits, but images of behavior, foraging, nest building, nests, and bathing. Some are comical, such as that of the Black-and-red Broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos) facing the camera with beak agape; others are stunning portraits, including those of the Black-and-yellow Broadbill (Eurylaimus ochromalus) and Garnet Pitta (Pitta granatina). Even rare or recently (re)discovered species, such as Gurney's Pitta (Pitta gurneyi), are included. Nest photographs include one of a male Scalloped Antbird (Myrmeciza ruficauda) on the nest (but seemingly more buried in the leaf litter). On every page, birds are sleeping, bathing, sunning, feeding, or nesting and one Blackish Cinclodes (Cinclodes anarcticus) is confronting face-to-face what appears to be a southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). Many species in these families are skulkers and difficult to see, much less capture on film in artistically composed photographs while displaying interesting behaviors. This is a truly remarkable collection of images.

The plates are simple in design, with a solid background and the birds are depicted on natural vegetation or without perches (the woodcreepers). The work of several artists is represented, with most families illustrated by a single artist throughout. The sole exception is the tapaculos, illustrated by two artists. The standard of the artwork in the plates is very high and the end result pleasing. Many subspecies are illustrated where appropriate. The plate illustrating the Whiskered Pitta (Pitta kochi) and Red-bellied Pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) has 12 full-bodied portrayals and 8 head or head-and-shoulders illustrations.

The family descriptions are followed by the species accounts, in which portions of the family overview are repeated with more specific information on habitat, food habits, feeding, breeding, movements, and status and conservation. Each account begins with a color plate followed by the text for that species. This format makes the book much easier to use than it would be if the color plates were disjunct from their associated text. Subspecies are illustrated for many species and are described briefly in the text. Each account provides a range map, a list of the species' common names in various languages, old names used for the taxon, and a summary of the species' taxonomy. Subspecies' authorities, geographic location of occurrence, and descriptive notes are provided including vocal descriptions. A bibliography concludes each account.

Improvements in volume 8 are just tweaks of the series' proven formula. For example, the base maps now show major rivers, and the photo captions contain the English names of birds in boldface type to make it easier to locate the species' name in the sometimes lengthy captions. A reference list of recordings is now included, and the reference list of Scientific Descriptions now includes the number of the page on which each taxon is described. Because many of these families are poorly known, the editors note that more unpublished information is referenced.

For those not fortunate enough to have started with volume 1, volume 8 represents a chance to begin with the passerines. Wherever you start, this is a landmark series and I highly recommended it.

MARY GUSTAFSON USGS
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Laurel, Maryland; e-mail: mary_gustafson@usgs.gov