Auk 131 (2014) pp112-115 by Walter J. Bock

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Special Volume: New Species and Global Index
Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott, Jordi Sargatal, and David A. Christie. 2013.
Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. 812 pages, 214 bird illustrations, 50 figures,
319 photographs, 94 distribution maps. $175 (hardcover). ISBN 978-84-96553-88-0.

With the arrival of the Special Volume (No. 17), this most remarkable series in ornithology comes to its completion. Work on the illustrated Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) started in the 1980s, and the first volume was published in 1992. The leader and driving force for this series is Josep del Hoyo, who organized the project under the heading of the Fundacio Mascort, with the partnership of the International Council for Bird Protection, now BirdLife International (a 60-page introductory essay by Peter J. Schei in the Special Volume thoroughly covers the history and work of BirdLife International). The first three editors of this final volume were associated with the project from the beginning; only David Christie joined the core editorial team later. The 17 volumes were published at an astonishing rate, the final volume appearing 21 years after the first one. Publishing the HBW was not sufficient for Lynx Edicions. In addition, this group has undertaken a similar series on the mammals of the world (three of the planned eight volumes have been published) in addition to numerous books on birds and other facets of natural history.

With the completion of the HBW, ornithologists have good coverage for each family of birds, with a general essay, many excellent photographs of many members of the family, a list of the recognized species with color illustrations, often with both males and females and sometimes distinctive geographic races shown, and a detailed account for each species with the taxonomy, distribution, range map, feeding and food, breeding, status and conservation, and a bibliography. Extinct species are not included. Each volume has an introductory essay on a different subject and a detailed bibliography. Although most ornithologists may disagree with a species recognized within a family and some of the details of the included information, the HBW has accomplished a review of the birds of the world that is not available in any other single source. The HBW, therefore, provides an excellent starting point for information on any avian family, especially for topics in field biology, although it is weak in areas of laboratory studies such as morphology, physiology, and embryology. The HBW sensibly followed the classification of birds presented in Peters' Check-list, yet there have been many proposals for new classifications, based largely on molecular work. A nice summary (70 pages) on ''Avian classification in flux'' is presented by Jon Fjeldsä, a who also provides an account (39 pages) of ''The discovery of new bird species,'' which serves as the introduction to the coverage (35 pages) of the new avian species described since the treatment of each family in earlier volumes of the HBW. The dust cover of each earlier volume has illustrations of the first and the last species included in that volume; however, it is not clear to me why the two birds on the dust cover of this final volume were chosen.

The basic reason for organizing this Special Volume was to present information on the species that have been described since the appearance of the earlier volume containing each family, but excluding those species taxa recognized by the splitting of known species after the publication of any family. This task is difficult in itself, as much effort is needed to keep abreast of the descriptions of new species. Professor Meise presented the first such review at the Oxford International Ornithological Congress (Meise 1938); subsequent reviews were written by Ernst Mayr and others, and most recently by Martens and Bahr (2013); it is time for the next review to be undertaken. Hence, I do not know whether all the newly described species have been included in this section, but one, Forpus flavicollis (Bertagnolio and Racheli 2010; also see Notton 2011), is excluded. There is considerable doubt about whether this parrot is a species, yet no comment is included in this section on the criteria used to include or exclude newly proposed species. Citations are included for all the new species included in this section (pp. 187-222), but getting this information for each new species is difficult because the authors for each species are not given in the species accounts. I urge that when mentioning a species name for the first time, in any publication, the author and year be included. A list of references for all the new species in this volume and a general reference list are included.

A most attractive part of this volume is the 175 pages of photographs (many full-page); I especially like the European Goldfinch (p. 186). Lynx Edicions must have huge files of avian photographs, and I hope that they develop some way to make these available to ornithologists. Most useful is the global index (309 pages), which includes separate indices for scientific, English, French, German, and Spanish names of all the birds in the HBW, referencing the volume and page number of the description of each species in the earlier 16 volumes.

The most surprising, and perhaps most controversial, part of this volume is the description of 15 new species of Amazonian birds (pp. 224-310), which had been kept secret before publication. These species' descriptions are introduced with a section (15 pp.) on ''Fifteen New Species of Amazonian Birds'' by Bret M. Whitney and Mario Cohn-Haft; the history of this part of the Special Volume in given in the Introduction (p. 11). These 15 species are fully described, mostly in conjunction with a revision of the species group related to the new species. Some concern exists about whether the name for the first species described in this section is available because of the provision of the Code (fourth edition, 1999:19) in Article 16 (on names published after 1999). This article states that ''Every new name published after 1999, including new replacement names (nomina nova) must be explicitly indicated as intentionally new.'' Recommendation 16A (p. 20) suggests using the term ''sp. nov.'' attached to the first use of the new name. This was not done for any of the descriptions, but for 14 of the new names, the title of the description includes the term ''new species,'' which would meet the requirements of Article 16. But no such mention exists in the title of the first species, Nystalus obamai, described by Whitney et al. (pp. 240-244). Lack of mention that this is a new species would mean that the name, Nystalus obamai, would not be available for purposes of zoological nomenclature; hence, I asked three other members of the IOC committee on avian nomenclature to read this description. Only one spotted the phrase ''of the new species within the striolated-puffbird complex'' at the end of the section on Etymology (p. 242), which seems to fill minimally the requirement of Article 16 of the Code. Hence, the description of Nystalus obamai is available for zoological nomenclature, although the intention of the authors is far from being explicit.

Another problem is whether these descriptions of new avian species from the Amazonian basin are readily available to most ornithologists working in this area. This is somewhat doubtful, and some objection can be raised on the decision to publish these 15 new species in this volume. Given that Lynx Edicions is establishing a website for future information on avian species, I would suggest that the articles describing these 15 species be placed on this site, independent of HBW Alive (

Although publication of this Special Volume of the HBW completes this wonderful project, Lynx Edicions is continuing their work with a planned Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World in two volumes (nonpasserines and passerines) and a system of updating under the title HBW Alive, which is available in many languages via Google's automatic translator. Further information on these ongoing parts of the HBW is available at www.hbw. com.

I have greatly enjoyed reading each volume of the HBW, learned a great deal from them, and used them as an important source of information. And I marveled that in two decades, Lynx Edicions has produced this monumental publication in avian biology, covering all species of the world's birds, with illustrations of every species, numerous excellent photographs, and an excellent summary of each family. All ornithologists are in their debt. On behalf of the community of avian biologists, I would like to congratulate and thank Josep del Hoyo and all the members of his group on the completion of this ornithological library.


Walter J. Bock
Department of Biological Sciences
Columbia University