Ostrich - 2009, 80(1): 67-68

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Ostrich 2009, 80(1): 67-68

Book review

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13: Penduline-tits to Shrikes
Edited by Josep Del Hoyo, Andrew
Elliott and David Christie
2008, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain
879 pages, 60 colour plates, hardcover
ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3. Price €212

The first volume of Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBWI; Elliott et al. 1992) set a precedent for successive volumes. Sixteen years later, volume 13 is certainly no disappointment. This comprehensive work deals with 16 diverse families from the penduline-tits (Remizidae, 13 spp.) to the true shrikes (Laniidae, 31 spp.), although the bush-shrikes (Malaconotidae) and helmet-shrikes (Prionopidae) are split to fit in the next volume. By far the most represented groups are the honeyeaters (Meliphagidae, 175 spp.) and sunbirds (Nectariniidae, 132 spp.), dominant nectarivore families in the Australasian and Afrotropical regions, respectively. This is therefore a welcome complement to the nectarivorous hummingbirdsof the Neotropics that appear in HBW5 (del Hoyo et al. 1999). The stitchbird or hihi Notiomystis cincta, a New Zealand endemic recently relegated to a monotypic family (Notiomystidae) from the Meliphagidae (Driskel et al. 2007), will also follow in the next issue.

Despite the diversity of families represented, no less effort has go1e into presenting those with few taxa, such as the Tichodromidae (Wallcreeper, 1 spp.), the Rhabdornithidae (rhabdornises, 3 spp.), the Paramythiidae (painted berrypeckers, 2 spp.), the Pardalotidae (pardalotes, 4 spp.) and the Promeropidae (sugarbirds, 2 spp.). The title, Penduline-tits to Shrikes, does not cover the diversity of other families represented in the work. One is therefore hard-pressed to remember the list of families nestled between the Remizidae and Laniidae; those not mentioned include the Aegithalidae (long-tailed tits; 13 spp.), the Sittidae (nuthatches, 27 spp.), the Certhiidae (treecreepers, 10 spp.), the Melanocharitidae (berrypeckers and longbills, 10 spp.), the Dicaeidae (flowerpeckers, 44 spp.), the Zosteropidae (white-eyes, 98 spp.) and the Oriolidae (orioles, 30 spp.).

For a work of this size the layout is relatively simple and, as with previous issues, reaches a readership of amateur to professional ornithologists and academics. Previous issues have included an introductory forward. This issue is no exception and an insightful summary of bird migration by an authority on the subject, Ian Newton, reminds us that ornithology and the HBW series is not only about summarising the diversity of the planet’s birdlife.

Each family is dealt with as a unit and systematic, morphological aspects, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding and movements introduce the species accounts that follow. Sections on relationships with man, and status and conservation, wrap up the family accounts and place the group in context with a rapidly changing anthropogenic world. No less than 19 authorities have contributed to these informative family accounts, which are supplemented with 60 colour plates and more than 400 colour photographs. In each case the plates allow comparisons between similar species, whilst photographs display the ‘jizz’ of a number of species in a natural environment. The quality of these photographs are simply outstanding and add significantly to a mine of information that will surely set the foundation, together with the rest of the series, as an international ornithological benchmark for decades to come.

Each species account is accompanied by a distribution map, 611 in total. In contrast to the comprehensive family accounts, they summarise important information on the taxa in question. For further information the reader can consult the myriad of references. This work is unlike any academic review where numerous citations break the flow of the text (and lengthen it considerably); these can be found at the end of each account with full references finishing off the volume. This list is impressive and includes a number of recent (2008) publications, reports, and ‘obscure’ references like those found in the Papua New Guinea Bird Society Newsletter.

Issues of nomenclature will persist for years to come and this issue will no doubt raise the eyebrows of taxonomic challengers. However, in the family accounts the numerous changes concerning taxonomic revisions over the years are raised and an understanding of the fluidity of this field is appreciated when reading through the text. The reference list of scientific descriptions, separate from the full reference list, is comprehensive and serves as a valuable reference for future studies. Even in a system guided by naming protocols there are disagreements; in the application of vernacular names it is no less common. In a review of HBWI (Elliott et al. 1992), Brooke (1993) stated, ‘The SAOS1 should note the reasonably successful attempt to give distinct English names to all species covered. The Society could do worse than decide to follow nearly alI the choices in the interests of international communication, a matter that 1 and others have raised in appropriate book reviews in the Ostrich’. This made me consider some of the recent name changes concerning southern African birds in the 7th edition of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa (Hockey et al. 2005). Rather than bother over whether to call It a Mariqua or Marico Sunbird, maybe settling for Cinnyris mariquensis is sufficient. But even this may change; not long ago it was Nectarinia mariquensis.

All in all, this addition is a most credible effort and reliable work by a group of enthusiastic ornithologists that would serve well in any natural history book collection. The consistency in producing successive volumes in the series is a reflection of the dedication and commitment of all involved. Future volumes are therefore likely to be of similar outstanding quality; the completion of the series in the not-too-distant future will surely be welcomed.

South African Ornithological Society (which has also undergone a name change and is now BirdLife South Africa)

Brooke RK. 1993. Review: Handbook of the birds of the world. Volume 1: Ostrich to ducks (del Hoyo J, Elliott A and Sargatal J [eds]). Ostrich 64: 137—138.
del Hoyo J, Elliott A and Sargatal J (eds). 1999. Handbook of the birds of the world, vol. 5: barn owls to hummingbirds. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
Driskei A, Christidis L, Gihi BJ, Boles WE, Barker FK and Longmore NW. 2007. A new endemic family of New Zealand passerine birds: adding heat to the biodiversity hotspot. Australian Journal of Zoology 55: 73—78.
Elliott A, Sargatal J and del Hoyo J (eds). 1992. Handbook of the birds of the world, vol. 1: Ostrich to ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds). 2005. Roberts birds of southern Africa (7th edn). Cape Town: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund.

Craig T Symes
School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa
E-mail: craig.symes@wits.ac.za