Ostrich - 78(1): 111-112; 2007

View review in PDF: 

78(1): 111-112; 2007

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes
Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and David Christie (eds)
2005 Lynx Editions, Montseny, 8
E-08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain, e-mail: lynx@hbw.com
896 pages, 80 colour plates, over 400 colour photographs, 737 distribution maps, 6 000 bibliographical references, hardcover
ISBN 84 87334 72 5, price 199

The Handbook of the Birds of the World series is fast becoming recognised as an essential tool for ornithologists, avi-tourism specialists and serious twitchers alike. The latest volume is no exception. In fact, each new volume seems to be better than the previous one! Volume 10, the third of the 'passerine' volumes, continues with the Oscines, the largest suborder of the Passeriformes, which should keep the publishers and editors busy for at least another five volumes.

As with previous volumes, each family is dealt with in detail in an introductory section covering systematics, morphological aspects, habitat, general habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with man and status and conservation. Each topic is illustrated with high-quality colour photographs, which make reading a pleasure. This is followed by detailed species accounts, using a similar topical breakdown and accompanied by a distribution map. This detail summarises pertinent aspects for each species — such as threats or distribution — but, on the whole, greater value is found in the family accounts. The colour plates accompanying the species descriptions are also of high quality and allow the reader to appreciate the diversity of each family covered in the text. The African flavour comes through in both the text and the photographs for the three families with sub-Saharan representatives and makes the sections easy to read for those not yet familiar with the birds from other regions.

Fourteen families are included in this volume, three of which have representatives in sub-Saharan Africa. These are the cuckoo-shrikes (Campephagidae), ably written by Dr Barry Taylor, the only South African author in this volume, the bulbuls (Pycnonotidae), and the very large and diverse Turdidae — the thrushes, chats, robins and others. The name cuckoo-shrike, something of a misnomer as this family is not related to either the cuckoos or the shrikes, is thought to be derived from the cuckoo-like barring and shrike-like bill, while the family name refers to the penchant of the family for eating caterpillars. Of the 86 species, only 13 occur in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands and three of these are threat¬ened species — predictably, because they are restricted-range species exposed to significant anthropogenic threats. The vulnerable status of the Mauritius Cuckoo-shrike Coracina typical and the endangered status of the Reunion Cuckoo-shrike Coracina newtoni are both because of habitat loss and degradation, introduced predators and competitors, and the not-infrequent natural disasters to which the islands are exposed.

Massive forest destruction due to commercial logging in the DRC, and in West Africa (in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast) has impacted a number of species, many of which are now classified as Vulnerable and near-threatened. The family diagnosis and species accounts for the Pycnonotidae include many photographs of species found in southern Africa, of which Warwick Tarboton's crisp image of a Cape Bulbul incubating is worthy of note. There are 138 bulbul species, of which 67 are found in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands; seven of the 13 bulbul species under threat are from this region. Prigogine's Greenbul Chloro-cichla prigoginei from the DRC has a very restricted range and is endangered, because of the impact of logging and agricultural encroachment within its habitat. In West Africa (Sierra Leone and Liberia), the Liberian Greenbul Phylla-strephus leucolepis is considered critically endangered, while the status of the Green-tailed Bristlebill (Bleda eximius) and Yellow-bearded Greenbul (Criniger olivaceus) is described as Vulnerable. All three species owe their endangered status to a combination of logging, agricultural activities, and the impact of civil unrest. The Mauritius Black Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus owes its vulnerable status to a combination of habitat degradation and the spread of exotic plants that are unsuitable for food, and the Malagasy Dusky Tetraka Xanthomixis tenebrosus and the Appert's Tetraka Xanthomixis apperti — also a Malagasy species — are considered vulnerable through range restriction caused by forest clearance. The Common or Garden Bulbul Pycno-notus barbatus and the Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor, on the other hand, are two of the commonest birds of Africa.

Southern Asian and Oriental families are well covered in this volume, including the leafbirds (Chloropseidae), fairy-bluebirds (Irenidae) (endemic to the tropical oriental region), and ioras (Aegithinidae). Then there are the more widely spread dippers (Cinclidae), which arose in Eurasia around four million years ago and have been demonstrated to have Old and New World species in sister clades. The waxwings (Bombycillidae) are widespread, despite having only three species — one in Japan, one in Eurasia, and one in North America. Other New World families include the silky-flycatchers (Ptilogonatidae), mockingbirds and thrashers (Mimidae) and the Palmchat (Dulidae), which is restricted to Hispaniola. A highly successful species despite its limited distribution (fossil evidence demonstrates a residence of 25 000-50 000 years) the Palmchat continues to thrive within areas of intensive human population. The wrens (Troglodytidae) are exclusively a New World family, with one exception in the Northern Wren Troglodytes troglo¬dytes, considered to be an escapee to the Old World. The Hypocolius (Hypocoliidae) — of which there is only one genus, species and taxon — breeds in Iraq and Iran and has benefitted from agricultural activities. The accentors (Prunellidae) are mainly distributed across the Palearctic region, but for serious African twitchers at least one species, the Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris, can be seen in the Atias Mountains in Morocco. Last but certainly not least are the thrushes, which are described as 'cosmopolitan'; the only part of the world where they are not found is New Zealand, one of the few geographic regions not home to any of the 14 families covered by this volume.

The extinct New Zealand Thrush or Piopio Turnagra capensis, which is mentioned in the section on systematics, is not described in this volume, and the recently-published Volume 7 of the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds places this species in its own family — the Tumagridae. Understandably, the section on robins and thrushes is large — very large, in fact! This family includes some of the most-studied species in the world and the introductory matter and species accounts are rich in detail.

One of the engaging parts of the book is the 'Relationship with Man' subsection, to be found in the, synopsis of each family. The section covering Turdidae has almost five pages of history (ranging from poetry to use of the birds as food and as cage birds) which is a most fascinating read. For anyone interested in the systematics of the Turdidae, there is a 17-page discussion covering progress, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, in the placement of this family within the Oscines. Biomolecular studies have made a significant contribution in assisting with the phylogeny of the Turdidae and, along with morphological traits, the worlds' ornithologists are slowly putting together a phylogenetic tree demonstrating the relationships between species. There are 60 genera, 336 species and 953 taxa, so this is no mean task! Unfortunately, 36 of these species are threatened, and invariably the threat can be described in one word — 'logging', or its alternative, 'deforestation' — which begs the question: who are the loggers and where are the markets for the timber? There are also two definite extinctions: the Grand Cayman Thrush Turdus ravidus and Kittlitz's Thrush Zoothera terrestris from Japan, and possibly another two from the Hawaiian Islands, all due to habitat changes. Africa has its fair share of threat¬ened species, 10 in all, with two being critical — the Somali Thrush Turdus ludoviciae and the Taita Thrush Turdus helleri. Four species are endangered: the Spotted Ground-thrush Zoothera guttata, the Thyolo Alethe Pseudalethe choloensis, the Gabela Akalat Sheppardia gabela and the Usambara Akalat Sheppardia Montana, and four are vulnerable. A further critical species is the Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum. Other than the Spotted Ground-thrush and the vulnerable East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi, all of these are restricted-range species, making habitat change a critical challenge to their survival success.

The series has produced a range of useful topical essays relating to ornithology at a global level; in this volume there is a synthesis of the ecology and impact of non-indigenous birds. The review has an impressive four-page bibliography that provides a more-than-ample set of references for readers who wish to make a more in-depth study of the topic. The book is well referenced, covering the relevant scientific literature for the species with which we are familiar. There is also an excellent alphabetical index, which includes interspersed common and generic names as well as an index to the photographs (by means of an italicised page number next to the name of the bird in the index). There is a separate index to the plates.

It is pleasing to note how many African authors have been acknowledged for making contributions to the text of the individual authors. As with the previous nine volumes, this reference work is essential to any library serving either an academic readership or the more general birding enthusiast. The book is expensive, but not unreasonably priced for the quality of text and accompanying illustrations.  

Mark Brown
School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal
e-mail: brownma@ukzn.ac.za

Margaret Sandwith
DST/NRF Centre of Excellence, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
e-mail: fitzlib@botzoo.uct.ac.za