OFO News - Vol. 26, nº 1, February 2008

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OFO News
Vol. 26, nº 1, February 2008

Handbook of the Birds of the World
Volume 12: to Tits and Chickadees

by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and David Christie.
Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain
E-mail: lynx@hbw.com.
Hardcover 815 pages.
$250.00 US CDN
(ISBN 84-96553-42-6).

Usually, I wish time would slow down, but when it comes to waiting for the next volume of the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW), I get impatient! The anticipation is almost unbearable. But enough about me.. .Volume 12 has arrived.

Ever wonder how many species of birds have ever lived on earth? Well, it’s obviously difficult to determine, but it may have been as many as 1.,634,000 according to one scientist, Fossil records persist for about 2,000 of these and upwards of 9,800 others still exist today. Let’s see — that’s about 12,000 accounted for — so that means that over 1.62 million species have never been described. In a detailed chapter, the authors describe the current science about fossil records, from the original avian precursors o “opposite” and toothed birds and finally modern birds. The text is interspersed with interesting graphics and depictions of what these birds looked like as they progressed from primitive to advanced. This goes a long way past the Archaeopteryx with which all of us are familiar.

The authors then dive directly into the species accounts, starting with the Picathartes.This is a localized family from western that includes only two species font-family: — White-necked and Grey-necked Picathartes. These are bizarre prehistoric colonial nesters that are surprisingly elusive and difficult to find. Their populations are low and their habitat remote, so few people have encountered them and fewer still have seen their graceful bounding gait.

As with all species accounts and family overviews in the series, the authors include information on systematics, morphological aspects, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with man, status and conservation and a bibliography. These are supported with range maps, beautiful paintings of every species, alternate names and distributional information.

As one moves through the book, one is treated to a fascinating journey through Australasia, Africa, Europe and North America, where you will learn about the 309 species of babblers, 21 parrotbills, 5 Australasian babblers, 3 logrunners, 18 jewel-babblers and allies, 56 whistlers, 46 Australasian robins, 27 fairy-wrens, 3 bristlebirds, 63 thornbills, 5 Australian chats, 2 sitellas, 7 Australasian treecreepers, and 56 tits and chickadees. I was taken back to some adventures I’ve had, in Australia in particular, and was able to nostalgically revisit the sites and sights through the pages of this book.

Teasers: Is a larger species of babbler clumsier than a smaller one? Does a Bearded Parrotbill need to be hugged before it can go to sleep? Do logrunners really run on logs? Is an Ifrit really a logrunner? Do whistlers whistle? What is a fidgeting flycatcher? Which family was once called Mormon wren due to the propensity of the male to keep a harem? Should the bristlebirds really be called the logsingers? Do thornbills and scrubwrens have a drinking problem? In the wild, both the female and male Crimson Chats incubate eggs. What happens when they are bred in captivity? Why do sitellas huddle? (Hint: this has nothing to do with football). What the heck is badging?

Well, you get my gist — these books are packed with information that can be as fun as it is scientific. Enjoy reading the essays on each family as much as you enjoy the reviewing the maps and paintings.

As always, the detail in this book is extraordinary and the quality impeccable. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, as I do the entire series.

For the latecomers, Lynx is offering special deals on purchasing the entire 12 volumes published to date. The savings they offer are substantial, so you might want to consider buying in now.

Check it out at http://www.hbw.com/lynx/en/handbook-birds-world, for more information.

Geoff Carpentier