Honeyguide - Vol. 43, No. 1, March 1997

Vol. 43, No. 1, March 1997

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3, 1996.
Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott & Jordi Sargatal.
Pp. 821. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Price £105. ISBN 84-87334-20-2.

I received my copy of Volume 2 of 'Handbook of the Birds of theWorld' in March 1995 (reviewed Honeyguide, 1995, 41: 142) and now in September 1996 volume 3 is before me. Supported by 34 authors internationally (3 from South Africa), 60 colour plates of the highest quality from ten well-known artists, 389 colour photos, 577 distribution maps and as the publishers blurb states, 8000 supporting references (actually I make it more than 10000!), it is once more almost impossible to fault this outstanding enterprise. Reviewers everywhere of these volumes have already surely exhausted the supply of superlatives to describe it and it is not necessary for me to try and rearrange them here. What has been astonishing is the speed with which they have been produced and in the future the interval between each may be reduced still further. And nowhere in the process has the degree of excellence been sacrificed or standards lowered and if anything it has been improved upon and even more information crammed into both the family and species accounts and references, even as late as in March of the year of publication have been included and their content alluded to in the text.

This volume covers the Hoatzin (in its own order) and II gruiform and 18 charadriiform families, most of which hold great popular appeal and usually (if you omit rails and crakes and a few others), are all highly observable. There is in addition a coloured frontispiece and a foreword by renowned Canadian artist Robert Bateman who adds some pertinent perspectives on wildlife art, its appreciation, and on ourselves. And as before, each species has its own conservation update, often with status and threats and detailed population estimates, reinforcing the very strong ties with BirdLife International. And looking purely on the local scene, the text for the enigmatic and endangered White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi tells us that this species may have bred in Zimbabwe near Mazowe in the 1950's, so there is a great deal of delving and discovery to be done within the pages of this book.

Originally scheduled to appear in 10 volumes and then increased to 12, others have been mooted to update the earlier ones and this would be commendable. But it should now be possible to look even further ahead and to suggest that consideration be given to treating the evolutionary history of the Class Aves from its first appearance in the fossil record. Two additional volumes could cover palaeontology, a field which has made such remarkable strides in recent years. There is also the question of species which became extinct within the historical period at the hands of man and the many others that disappeared whether directly or indirectly as the result of the spread of mankind (mostly to islands) in the last few thousand years. And this could even be stretched further back to include the extinctions which occurred within the terminal Pleistocene-Holocene time-span. One cannot certainly adequately monograph the living birds of the world and leave out that which went before and I hope this suggestion will meet with serious consideration.