Ibis (British Ornithologists’ Union) - 1999 141, 151-166

Ibis (British Ornithologists’ Union)
1999 141, 151-166

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos.
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds)
679 pages, many colour plates, photographs and maps.
Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1997. £ 110.00, ISBN 84-87334-20-2

Volume 4 of the Handbook follows the previous volumes and, if you know these, you will hardly need this review and have probably ordered your copy anyway. If you do not know them, then you should make the effort to have a look at them, because you are missing something. The work is impressive, and building.

This volume covers just four bird Orders but, because two are amongst the largest, it covers some 837 species. The orders are: Pterocliformes (sandgrouse, 16 species), Columbiformes (pigeons and doves, 309 species), Psittaciformes (Cacatuidae, cockatoos, 21 species and Psittacidae, parrots, 332 species) and Cuculiformes (Musophagidae, turacos, 23 species and Cuculidae, cuckoos 136 species). This classification splits the sandgrouse from the pigeons with which they have been associated and puts them as a separate order between the Charadriiformes (the last order in the previous volume) and the pigeons. This is a sensible move since, as the text explains, there is growing disaffection with the sandgrouse-pigeon association and much evidence linking sandgrouse with the waders. However, the author does not go as far as Sibley and Monroe in putting them within the order Charadriiformes. The cockatoos are split off from the rest of the parrots into a family of their own, whereas the turacos are kept as a family within the Cuculiformes instead of being given a family of their own; both these are in line with many other classifications. The cuckoos are also lacking the Hoatzin Opisthocomocus, which has sometimes been thought to be a (highly aberrant) cuckoo; this species was given a monotypic order in the previous volume.

The text also follows the previous volumes. Most of the format was explained in volume 1, but there is a 14-page section by Jürgen Haffer entitled "Species concepts and species limits in ornithology". While a useful and sensible account, it is not clear to me why it was included here. For each family, there is detailed account of the systematics, morphology, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationships with man and status and conservation. These sections are large for the bigger families, 50 pages for pigeons, 59 for parrots, although a considerable amount of the space is filled with photographs. These accounts are then followed by the species accounts, which are pithy and in small print and with a range map. In the case of the two large families, there are about 2.5 accounts per page, although it reaches almost six to the page in some groups. All this is capped by a 40-page bibliography, including references up to 1997.

Last, but not least, there are the illustrations. As already mentioned, the general texts are augmented with photographs; a better collection would be hard to find, there seem to be no poor ones. The species accounts are accompanied by an equally fine range of colour plates, illustrating the species and the races; more (18) artists were used than in the previous volumes, but the syles are sufficiently similar for this not to irritate and the standard is high throughout. I would prefer larger illustrations (one plate illustrates 40 individual pigeons), but compromises are unavoidable in order to cover all the forms.

This is a fine work, commendably keeping to time. The editors, authors and artists are to be congratulated on their achievement.

Chistopher Perrins, © 1999 British Ornithologists’ Union