Bird Watching - July 2002

Bird Watching
July 2002

Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 7, Jacamars to Woodpeckers.
Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andy Elliot and Jordi Sargatal. Lynx Edicions.
hb 614 pp, ISBN 84-87334-37. £110. Free postage and packing from the Bird Watching bookshop.

IT'S BIG! It's back and it's beautiful as ever! Forget the superlatives; they ran out long ago and there simply aren't enough words in the thesaurus. Just take it as read that everything about the latest volume of Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) is simply first - class.

After the publication of the last volume, the publishers realised that planned 12 volumes were insufficient to do justice to the project. Rather than take a unilateral decision, they polled all the subscribers, asking them if they were prepared to support extending the series to 16.

It's a measure of the quality of the books that a whopping 93% of customers said 'yes', despite the possible damaging prospects to bookshelves, bank balances and marriages.

HBW7 includes jacamars, puffbirds, barbets, toucans, honeyguides, and woodpeckers. Before you even get to the main substance of the book though, there is the foreword to look at. These always take the form of extended essays and this one, by Errol Fuller is about extinct birds. At 58 A4-sized pages, this almost the equivalent of a small book in itself.

Even the foreword is profusely illustrated though, for obvious reasons, these are the mostly in the form of the plates rather than photographs.

The quality of the plates throughout the book is superb. Eleven top artists have been used with the honours going (just) to Ian Lewington for his barbet illustrations.

The plates accompany the species accounts which as well as the distribution map, have sections on taxonomy, subspecies, descriptive notes habitat, food, breeding, movements, and status and conservation.

There is also a mini-bibliography. If that is the "bread and Butter" reference section, it is the family text that gets the greatest plaudits. Again, taking the form of an extended essay (the woodpecker section runs to 125 pages), these sections are profusely illustrated with more than 300 mouth-watering pictures. These are not simply portraits, but action shots of the highest quality. As well as exuding scholarship, the text is very accessible, making it a book to enjoy reading, not simply looking for facts.

One feature of the books that hasn't received a lot of attention so far is the "build quality" which, as you might expect by now, is first class. The book sits open easily and you just know that the pages aren't going to fall out.

Special care has even been taken on the dust jacket. The top and bottom edges are folded over so that you are unlikely to suffer the odd little nick or tear as you take it off your shelf. A laminated quick index to the non-passerines has also been included.

The only criticism i have ever heard levelled against these books is that they are expensive. Well, up to a point, but there is far more value to be had from a volume of HBW, compared with a couple of identification guides.

If you need any more incentive, there are special offers for anyone who wants to start collecting from scratch and even an instalment plan with low monthly payments. See the website for further details.

Don't think that these must be books for the expert only. They are for every birder- just books that happen to be simply magnificent.

by Gordon Hamlett