Alula - 2/2000


Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol 5: Barn-owls to Hummingbirds.

Del Hoyo J., Elliott A., Sargatal J. (toim.), 1999. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

After I started birding in different parts of the world in the early eighties, I began to recognize that I wanted a certain sort type of book. I wanted a book on my shelf that included all the species of the world with illustrations and maps. I thought it would remain a dream, because surely nobody in their right mind would start such a crazy project. But fortunately I was wrong!

The Spaniards made my dream come true. Eight years ago I had the pleasure and honour to make room on my shelves for the first part of the gorgeous series ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’, more commonly known as "HBW", introducing all the species of the world. The reviews of the 12-volume work were enthusiastic all over the world. The first volume immediately won the ‘Book of the Year’ awards from both British Birds and Birdwatch. I was surprised by the standard of HBW. The series has been very high quality and really enjoyable as a reading and browsing experience from the very first. Not many know that as a photographic work HBW is also of very high quality. In every part there are hundreds of photographs by the most well known bird photographers in the world, well printed and of impressionable size. HBW is without question one of those fabulous titles of the nineties, which deserve praise.

The fifth volume covers the owls, nightjars and relatives, swifts and hummingbirds. Of these the 205 owl species take up 200 pages, while the hummingbirds, with more species but less worldwide interest make do with 150. All in all there are 759 pages in the book, which is about average for the volumes published so far.

The book begins with a short introduction for the user reader and in this volume, as an additional extra, the new threat classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is given in detail. The first volume of the series included an additional chapter on bird morphology and other general features. The introductory chapters take up about thirty pages, which leaves 730 to cover the species accounts.

For each species there is at least one painting (several, if the sexes or subspecies differ in plumage), a clear distribution map, and a short but informative species account. Each plate usually shows about ten species. There is much additional information about the species in the family introductions, which for the owls totals 75 pages. This chapter covers the systematics, morphology, habitat, behaviour, voice, food, breeding, invasions, and relations to man and conservation – about 5-10 pages for each subject. This chapter also has excellent photographs.

An incredible amount of literature has been used in the production of HBW. For this volume the editors (and altogether 38 authors) have used nearly 8,000 references! This information is fresh, as there are many papers from the year 1998 included in the list. I cannot say how well Finnish literature has been used, as I don’t know enough about the publication level of owl research. While reading the third volume, published in 1996, I remember my disappointment in reading that there were 200 breeding pairs of Little Gull in Finland. From which period and from which work might this piece of information have been taken? In reality there are thousands of pairs. In any case, HBW belongs on the shelves of every birder with a broad view of their hobby – and it should take a primary spot. Whether we are interested in Blossom Crown, Buffthighed Puffleg, Purplebibbed Whitetip or Horned Sungem HBW quickly introduces what kind of bird it is, provides all the necessary basic information and offers a wide assortment of interesting details on the species’ biology for those who want to dig deeper. And it achieves this in a grand scale.

Mauri Leivo