Ethology - 102, 436-440, 1996

102, 436-440 (1996)

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal, J. [eds] 1994:
Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol.II. New World Vultures to Guineafowl.

Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 640 pp., 362 colour figs, 590 maps, DM240, ISBN 84-87334-15-6.

The second of the 12-volume ornithological monument Handbook of the birds of the world has appeared. It covers two orders, birds of prey (Falconiformes) and fowl (Galliformes), with 12 families from New World vultures (Cathartidae) to guineafowl (Numididae), depicting all of their species and relevant subspecies on 640 pages, 60 colour plates, 590 distribution maps, and 302 colour photographs. The volume refers to more than 7000 ornithological publications concerning these two orders.

The rationale for the handbook and technical details of its organization have already been discussed in the review of the first volume (Ethology 96, 91-93). The handbook aims to record and illustrate the ecological and taxonomic diversity of birds rather than to serve as a monumental field guide to the birds of the world. Some organizational changes that have been made since the first volume appeared should be mentioned. The most significant deviation from the original plan is the extension of the whole series from 10 to 12 volumes, with volume 12 (finches to crows) to be issued in 2005. Considering the plethora of details and the thoroughness of family and species accounts in the first two volumes, this 20% increase in total size is well understandable and most readers will probably appreciate it, even if the price for the whole handbook will increase at the same rate. Another significant change, which will, however, be realized by only a small number of readers, is the nomination of Walter J.BOCK as consultant for systematics and nomenclature. With regard to the current heterogeneity and conflicting diversity of avian classification systems, and the general confusion about standard sequences of avian taxonomic arrangements, it is a wise decision by the editors to request the advice of a specialist in avian taxonomy. This decision will guarantee a consistent and reliable treatment of taxonomy and nomenclature, which is fundamental for any systematically organized handbook. With a few exceptions and adjustments to recent changes in avian classification, the handbook follows the well-established sequence of avian taxa, as suggested by MORONY, BOCK & FARRAND (1975). The foreword to the second volume by W.J.BOCK discusses the apparent problems of using standard sequences, and presents a theoretically sound and thoughtful statement about phylogenies, classifications, and standard sequences, their differences and their potential problems. At any point in the foreword and in the text it becomes obvious that the taxonomic arrangement is an arbitrary but necessary convention for communication among scientists. Throughout the book, phylogenetic evidence is discussed, even if it is conflicting and in contrast to the sequence of taxa in the handbook.

Compared with the first volume, the number of text authors and artists has increased considerably. For some bird families, several authors contribute to family description and species accounts, and, in some cases, several artists contribute drawings of species of the same family. The editors have, however, been extremely successful in adjusting styles of writing and painting as far as possible, while preserving the individuality of each contribution. Thus, the volume appears as a highly coherent output of text authors and artists who have been closely interacting. In general, I found the text very readable, and in some parts exceptional in style and content. For example, the discussion of the evolutionary diversification and phylogenetic position of New World vultures is an impressively modern treatise of the problem of convergent evolution in birds. The phylogenetic origin of New World vultures from an ancestral ciconiiform stemgroup is based on strong arguments of morphology, behaviour, and ecology, as well as molecular evidence, and recent phylogenetic hypotheses are discussed even if they suggest different solutions.

As in the first volume, the photographs illustrating the text of the family accounts are just superb, combining excellent photographs of sometimes extremely rare species in their natural environment with exciting photographs of naturally performed behaviour and social display. This is especially true for some of the cryptic and highly endangered taxa such as megapodes and cracids.

Another change, or rather addition, concerns the reference to the conservation and status of endangerment of each species. As in the first volume, conservation and status are referenced for each species in detail throughout the book, and the IUCN thread category and the CITES status (WA appendix I, II, III) are listed for each species. Because decisions about the IUCN thread category are based on somewhat subjective criteria, the new Mace-Lande criteria, that are based on the probability of survival of a species within various periods of time, are introduced to describe the status of a species in addition to IUCN and CITES criteria. The Mace-Lande criteria have now consistently been applied for the Megapodiidae, Odontophoridae, Phasianidae, and Numididae. The editors point out that they intend to continue with that new categorization for the other taxa in the following volumes. Replacement of the IUCN system is the final goal. Because the editors realized that such a step would require many years, and because they also realized that the Mace-Lande index needs approvement and perfection, both systems are currently applied for the description of the species’status. Time and practice will show which of the systems will ultimately be established. However, if one day the Mace-Lande categories entirely replace the IUCN system, the handbook will provide the most important crossreference between the old and new systems for many years.

A total of 60 colour plates illustrate all of the species dealt with in the volume; for sexually dimorphic species both sexes are presented. Where they occur, important subspecies and colour morphs are depicted. As indicated above, eight artists have contributed to this volume, resulting in some diversity of styles. However, all plates are of very high quality, are clear and precise, and allow the reader to recognize and understand external differences in the species. Whether one prefers the style of drawings from one or the other artist will to a very high degree depend on the readers’ personal taste. Without a doubt, the task of representing all bird species of the world cannot be undertaken by just a single artist, or even by a smaller group of artists. Consistency of style has been reached as far as possible and the illustrations perfectly serve the primary goal of the handbook: to record and describe diversity among birds.

This second volume continues the excellence of the first, and, in fact, has even improved in important aspects. Now, with the second volume out, it becomes obvious that this handbook will be much more than just a handbook, as evidenced by the presentation of monographic treatise of bird families at a high scientific standard, listing a plethora of references, and by the discussion of the evolutionary history of morphology, behaviour, and ecology of bird families: it offers an up-to-date discussion of phylogenetic relationships among families and species within families.

Written in readable style, it makes recent scientific progress and current ideas accessible even to the non-scientist. In conclusion, this handbook of the birds of the world is already on its way to becoming the central source of information on birds, for avian scientists and enviromental management professionals as well as amateur ornithologists. Furthermore, I found it to be highly supportive in teaching and interesting students in general avian biology. Unfortunately, we have to wait another 10 years before the handbook will be complete. One would sincerely wish that the editors, authors, artists, and the technical staff of Lynx Edicions have the strength and concentration to continue the project and maintain its high level of quality and completeness.

Reviewed by J.Matthias STARCK, University of Tübingen, Institute of Zoology, Tübingen,