Birdwatch - Sepember 2002

September 2002


Handbook of the Birds of the World (Volume 7: jacamars to woodpeckers), edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal (Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2002. 613 pages, 70 plates, numerous colour photos and distribution maps. ISBN 84-87334-37-7. Hbk, £110.)

It is barely a year since Volume 6 of HBW hit the bookshelves, and the reason for the speedy completion of this follow-up is that the species covered here - Galbuliformes (jacamars and puffbirds) and Piciformes (barbets, toucans, honeyguides and woodpeckers). - were originally scheduled for inclusion in the previous offering, which was altered to run from mousebirds to hornbills. However, such was the wealth of information accumulated on the families in question that the inclusion of jacamars to woodpeckers in the original Volume 6 would have required more than 1,000 pages and might have required the services of a small forklift truck to lift the tome off the shelves. The new HBW schedule, which has apparently been approved by a large percentage of readers, should see 16 volumes in total.

Volume 7 is the last to deal with non-passerines and is written with the thorough detail that has become a trademark during the more recent editions of this epic series. The two groups covered here account for more than 500 pages alone and the remainder of the tome - the opening 68 pages -is devoted to all the species, non-passerines and passerines alike, to have become extinct since 1600 - a cut-off date explained in the book.

I, like many other birders, have a morbid fascination with reading about the birds that I will never have the chance to see, and the list here details many of which I had never heard and a few that I had. There are 21 plates devoted to the subject, three of which take full pages (rails, parrots and Hawaiian honeycreepers). The others are of varying size, depicting all the species for which sufficient structural and plumage features are known. The authors have adopted what they describe as "an optimistic approach" to possible extinctions, so that we find Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers included in the 'live' species accounts.

As has come to be expected from the HBW series, the writing is comprehensive in its coverage of each species, and the artwork -both plates and photographs - ooze quality and will have the reader savouring every single page. The 49 plates, which depict all species, vary in quality from very good to superb, while the photography is to die for. Personal favourites include the Bearded Barbet showing its whiskers to full effect, the feathered tongue of the Green Araçari, the alert Blond-crested Woodpecker, the Green Woodpecker with tongue fully extended, and the series of shots of an Ochre-collared Piculet extracting a grub from a bamboo stalk.

The volume is fairly up-to-date in terms of newly described species, with, for example, full text treatment, colour painting in the appropriate plate and a colour photo of Scarlet-belted Barbet, which was only discovered in 1996 and officially described to science in 2000.

It's hard to suggest improvements to such an impressive offering. One such relates to the photo captions, which would benefit from the inclusion of an English name next to the scientific one, saving trawling through what are often quite lengthy tracts to learn or confirm the species depicted. Also, the digital colouring of the black-and-white Ivory-billed Woodpecker photographs detracts from their impact.

That said, though, this is another masterpiece which delighted HBW collectors will find matches the high standards of the earlier volumes. Only one word will suffice - superb!

by Simon Papps