Cotinga - 10, Autumn 1998

10, Autumn 1998.

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos
edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott & Jordi Sargatal, 1997. Barcelona
Lynx Edicions. 674 pp, 70 colour plates, numerous colour photographs and distribution maps. UK £100/ US $185.

Five years after the launch of the Handbook of the birds of the world the fourth volume has appeared. Previous volumes in the series have been welcomed with unparallelled enthusiasm worldwide and the editors must feel considerable pressure to keep up to expectations.

Judging from this volume they can handle it: building on the acclaimed format with the help of an impressive team of contributors, this volume starts with a foreword on species concepts by Jürgen Haffer and then covers six families: sandgrouse, pigeons and doves, cockatoos, parrots, turacos and cuckoos. A total of 837 species is treated, a record number for a single volume in the series so far. The contents of the species accounts, again with many references to recent literature, differs somewhat between the families. Voice for example is mentioned only for cuckoos, whereas only for parrot species is it mentioned whether they occur in a restricted range (using the somewhat awkward phrase "A BirdLife ‘restricted-range’ species"). All species are illustrated, on 70 plates. Many of these are real treats and some are dazzling: the macaws of course, but with stiff competition from turacos, rosellas, lories etc. On the other hand a few birds are distinctly pale compared to their excellent portraits elsewhere in the book, for example Kakapo Strigops habroptilus and the crowned-pigeons Goura spp. Again all birds painted are not engaged in any activity other than sitting or standing. This continues to be a bit odd, but of course the pictures in the family accounts are there to make up for that.

The family introductions (apparently not covered in the index ) are again well written but there are only a few of them compared with earlier volumes. This has a side effect: they contain fewer pictures: 236 compared to an average of c.350 in earlier volumes. Whereas this must be considered a pity the quality is again excellent, with many rare, remote or otherwise remarkable species shown. I will admit to having been spoilt considerably by the earlier volumes. Surely pictures of the likes of Henderson Fruit-dove Ptilinopus insularis deserve more than a passing glance! Fans of Neotropical birds will probably be delighted to see beautiful shots of, for example, the Spix´s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii, a Purple-winged Ground-dove Claravis godefrida and a Red-fan Parrot Deroptyus accipitrinus among many others. Nevertheless one would have to be quite single-minded not to be distracted by species from other regions: perhaps by a juvenile Long-billed Cuckoo Ramphomantis megarhynchus from Papua New Guinea that looks rather like a nunlet, or by a Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae from Australia with the looks of a toucan!

Volume 4 is a worthy successor to the first three volumes. According to information on the publisher´s website (, the next exciting volume "Barn Owls to Hummingbirds" (which also contains potoos Nyctibius spp., Oilbird Steatornis caripensis etc.) is well underway and scheduled to appear in July 1999. Don´t miss it.

Willem-Pier Vellinga