Avicultural Magazine - Volume 104, Nº2 1998

Avicultural Magazine
Volume 104, Nº2 1998


The arrival of Volume 4 of the Handbook of the Birds of the World marks completion of a third of this impressive work. Like its predecessors, it is in every sense a heavyweight - nearly 700 pages measuring 310 x 240 mm, 70 colour plates illustrating hundreds of birds, more than 250 colour photographs, 850 distribution maps and over 7,000 bibliographical references. Purchasers will need a bookcase or bookshelf of some substance for this volume weighs nearly 4kg. Of course, if you pay more than £100 for a book of this kind you are entitled to expect quality - and this is precisely what has been provided in successive volumes. Although the various contributing Editors are drawn from countries around the world, the editorial team is based in Barcelona where the volumes are produced, and one assumes there is close liaison between Lynx Edicions staff and the production people which almost certainly accounts for the impeccable nature of the finished product. Certainly, as well as looking good the book has a comforting feel to it and one cannot fail to appreciate the unmistakable aura of excellence which is reflected in practically every aspect - from paper quality and colour reproduction to printing and binding. Even the dust wrapper has a suggestion of permanence about it!

Although all of the first four volumes have been universally welcomed by ornithologists, many aviculturists will probably have been less interested in the first three which covered Ostriches to Auks. Volume 4 marks the start of a series of nine volumes dealing with many families to which birds keepers are more likely to relate.

Just six families are included in the present volume - Sandgrouse, Pigeons and Doves, Cockatoos, Parrots, Touracos, and Cuckoos - in itself a clear indication of the comprehensive treatment which typifies the series so far. Arrangements are exactly as in the first three volumes - lengthy introductions to each family covering morphological aspects, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with man, status and conservation.

Species text is concise, up to date and - although I cannot claim to have read all of the million or so words that lie between the covers - accurate. Putting these volumes to practical use I have found them extremely useful, although I was blown slightly off-course when attempting to sort out some of the races of the Zebra Dove Geopelia striata, to find that G.s.placida is now given species status as the Peaceful Dove G.placida - one of a number of classification changes.

The colour plates are not, shall we say, Thorburn or Bateman-type works of art with birds depicted against beautifully drawn landscapes. But they are accurate and well drawn, albeit one or two having a look of museum specimens about them. However, as an aid to identification of species and distinctive races they are excellent.

The standard of photographs reproduced in all four volumes has been consintently brilliant. All are of a technically high standard and I appreciate the considerable number which depict birds engaged in specific activities. I particularly like a charming picture of a tightly-packed line of Scaled Doves Scardafella squammata soaking up the early morning rays of the sun on a chilly morning. Another to take my eye is a Buffon´s Touraco Tauraco persa buffoni attempting to intimidate the photographer by means of a spectacular threat display. There are many such illustrations and I am sure anyone who picks up a copy of this volume, or indeed any of those previously published, will recognise their high quality. This is an aspect of the book which should not be ignored - it is a pleasure to handle, either as a valuable reference or simply to leaf through the pages.

While the first three volumes generated what can only be described as "rave" reviews in many of the world´s most prestigious scientific journals, one or two reviewers - presumably having exhausted their stock of superlatives have made carping observations about alleged minor shortcomings in this volume. A pity. For while one or two pinprick errors may reveal themselves to a meticulous proof reader they do not detract from what is destined to be a publishing triumph.

Handbook of the Birds of the World is published by Lynx Edicions (in association with Birdlife International) Passeig de Gracia, 12, 08007 - Barcelona, Spain and costs £110. It is also available from good booksellers.

The internet offers an excellent means of finding out about it, as it obviously offers much more space than any review or brochure. By visiting the publisher´s web site at: - http://www.hbw.com - several texts can be read or downloaded and a selection of plates and photographs from the first four volumes can also be viewed.

Frank Woolham