International Journal of Ornithology - Vol. 4(2): 110 - April/May/June 2001

International Journal of Ornithology
Vol. 4(2): 110 - April/May/June 2001

Title: Handbook of Birds of the World, vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills.
Editors: Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliot and Jordi Sargatal
Publisher: Lynx Edicions
Year: 2001
ISBN: 84-87334-30X
Price: 115 Euros

By now, most readers should be acquainted with this series of books, even if they do not own personal copies. The Handbook of Birds of the World has proved to be one of the major ornithological publishing ventures in recent years, and the appearance of a new volume is an eagerly awaited event.

Volume 6 covers three orders: the Coliiformes (mousebirds), Trogoniformes (trogons) and the ten families of the Coraciiformes - in all, about 270 species, comprising some of the most strikingly colourful and interesting birds.

The format remains the same as in previous volumes, with the bulk of a volume consisting of the taxonomic treatments, which are divided into two parts. One are the extensive accounts of the families, augmented by a rich selection of photographs, many illustrating different behavioural aspects. There are 385 well-reproduced colour photographs in this volume.

The other component are the species accounts. These provide succinct summaries of the standard information on description, distribution (including a range map), habitat, breeding and movements. A section on status and conservation is evidence of the close relationship of this publication with the BirdLife International. A valuable part of all accounts is the extensive bibliography, which will make the search for more detailed information much easier and less time consuming. There are more than 6000 references in this volume. Another major feature of the series is that, when completed, it will have illustrated in colour all the living species of birds and a fair number of extinct ones. There are 45 skilfully produced colour plates. A bonus of this series is that, in addition to the taxonomic coverage, the forward in each volume gives an extensive but accessible presentation of a topic in avian biology. This time the subject is bioacoustics.

With both its breadth and depth of coverage, the Handbook fills a niche for which there is no comparable work. Congratulations are due to the editors, artists and other contributors for undertaking such an ambitious project, and achieving and maintaining such high standards.

This richness has raised problems with the series. It was originally planned that this volume would also include the Piciformes (woodpeckers and allies), but it was found that to include them would require a cut in the amount of information and photographs per species. Subsequent volumes must now be trimmed back or the number of volumes must be increased to continue the current level of information. Given the outstanding quality of the Handbook to date, I, for one, vote to maintain the current standard.

Walter E. Boles
Division of Vertebrate Zoology (Birds)
6 College Street
Australian Museum