Wildlife Activist - Autumn 2004

Wildlife Activist
Autumn 2004

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails , ed. by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott, and David Christie. 2004. 864 pages. Cloth. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona, Spain $185.00.

With each volume, the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) becomes more impressive and more valuable. Volume 9 in a series expected to include 16 volumes is as spectacular for the species covered as for the production of this superb series. Incredible color photos illustrating a section on each bird family, and outstandingly painted and reproduced plates of all species illustrate this tremendous achievement for ornithology and conservation. The family accounts contain sections on systematics, morphology, habitat, behavior, voice, feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with man, status, conservation, and references. Species accounts follow each color plate, providing details and a color range map for each species.

The book opens with an interesting forward on ornithological nomenclature and a small description of a new tribe recognized in the large and diverse Tyrant-flycatcher family. The family descriptions and species accounts make up most of the remainder of the book, with nearly 60 pages of references and an index completing the text. This volume continues the coverage of the largest order of birds, the Passeriformes, completing the remainder of the suboscine passerines and beginning the oscines, which will fill the remaining volumes in the series.

The first family covered is the strange, beautiful, and sometimes strangely beautiful Cotingas. This is a South and Central American family whose best-known members are the cock-of-the-rocks. The Cotingas were the favorite birds of my guide Lucio when I visited the Amazon region of Peru. The members of the next family, the Manakins, are often striking as well but are best known for their fabulous courtship arena displays. This is another family restricted to the Neotropics. The very large New World Tyrant-flycatcher group is next and fills a good deal of the volume with 429 species. These include some of North American gems such as the Vermillion and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and the Empidonax complex, one of our most challenging ID problems in the U.S. It also contains hundreds of tropical species, from the plain and confusing to the flamboyant. Three small Australasian families follow the tyrants and complete the Suboscine group: the New Zealand Wrens, Scrub-birds, and the Lyrebirds whose large tails and strange courtship displays have made them favorites in natural history films.

The Lark, Swallow and Martin, and Pipit and Wagtail families are the last three families covered, beginning the Oscine passerine group. While these groups have worldwide distribution, they are less dramatic than the other groups discussed above and will seem familiar to North American birders.

It would be hard to imagine how the publishers and editors of this series could have created a more magnificent series to document avian biodiversity worldwide, and promote conservation on a global scale. The world-view provided by HBW will open the eyes of any birder or ornithologist. These stunningly beautiful and highly valuable reference books are a tremendous value at $185 per volume and are an excellent investment, as they will increase in value over the years. Ornithologists, birders, and naturalists will consider them among their most prized possessions, while no academic library should be without them. Most highly recommended.

By Dan R. Kunkle