The Quarterly Review of Biology - Volume 74 (1), March 1999

The Quarterly Review of Biology
Volume 74 (1), March 1999

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos.
Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott, and Jordi Sargatal,

Barcelona (Spain): Lynx Edicions. $185.00. 679 p; ill.; index. ISBN: 84-87334-22-9. 1997.

This impressive volume is packed with invaluable information, beautiful photographs, and detailed color plates. The book provides extensive information on the Pterocliformes, Columbiformes, Psittaciformes, and Cuculiformes; it is exhaustively researched and is also both visually attractive and highly readable. These qualities will make it worthwhile for a range of readers, from the professional ornithologist to the weekend bird watcher.

The book begins with a foreword that discusses the biological species concept as it relates to ornithology. The section is nicely done, and an asset to a volume covering diversity. The book is organized into comprehensive descriptions of each order, followed by species descriptions. The order descriptions offer useful at-a-glance information on distribution, the number of total species, genera, and threatened species. The descriptions are organized into information on systematics, morphology, habitat, general habits, vocalizations, feeding, breeding, movements, and references. In addition, each order description discusses status, conservation, and relationships with humans. The descriptions of the four orders alone (169 pages), would make a superb book on their own.

The species accounts provide scientific names and common names in several languages. They discuss taxonomy, distribution, morphology, habitat, feeding, breeding, and status. The species accounts close with lists of references that often include dozens of citations.

Visually, this volume is extraordinary, and its appeal, in addition to making the book a pleasure to read, adds to its educational value. For example, order accounts provide colorful graphics illustrating the relationship of the families, subfamilies, and tribes. They are also filled with stunning photographs of birds in their natural habitats. There is an American mourning dove (Zenaida macroura marginella) sitting in a nest in a saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), scarlett macaws (Ara macao macao) flying in a Brazilian rainforest, a red-fronted coua (Coua reynaudii) bringing food to its nest in Madagascar, plus 233 other photos. The usefulness of the photos is further enhanced by the presence of informative, paragraph-long captions.

This book is expensive, but readers will soon appreciate that it contains four books’ worth of expertly-compiled information, and thus merits every penny of its cost.

John P Roche, Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.