The Loon, Volume 86, Nº1, Spring 2014


]. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, ]. Sargatal, and D. Christie, editors. 2013. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 812 pp. -$197. This and previous volumes are available from Lynx Edicions, c/o Postal Express & Fulfillment Center, Inc., 265 Sunrise Highway suite 1 #252, Rockville Centre, New York 11570, or through the internet ( The full set is available through an installment plan; inquiries can be sent by email (

This is the 17th and final volume in this set, and it is completely different from the previous 16 volumes, which required 20 years to complete. The need for this final volume was profound. It packs together a diverse series of components, more than just the three core areas on which it was based: 1) an overview of how avian systematics has changed our views during the two decades over which this series was published, 2) accounts for species described after those sections of the series had already been published, and 3) an index of the whole series. The fuller complement of its components are: a history of BirdLife International (61 pp.), two sections on avian systematics and the discovery of new species (109 pp.), new bird species described after their family treatments in these volumes had already been published (128 of them, not including subspecies subsequently raised to full species; 36 pp.), formal descriptions of 15 new species of Amazonian birds (89 pp.), a photo gallery (175 pp.), references for this volume (10 pp.), and the "global index" (309 pp). As with prior volumes, this is a large, heavy folio, well printed, well illustrated, and well constructed.

The Foreword on BirdLife International (BO is present due to the close working relationship between the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) publishing effort and BI (which was the International Council for Bird Preservation, ICBP, at the beginning of HBW). The Foreword commemorates the 20th anniversary of the BirdLife Partnership and the 90th anniversary of the establishment of ICBP. It surveys ninety years of the history of bird conservation from this group's perspective. Given the widely respected expertise and activities of ICBP, this section is rich in history and in ongoing efforts for bird conservation around the world.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this volume is the 70-page treatise by Jon Fjeldsa on the changes in avian classification (higher taxonomy) that have occurred over the past 20-30 years. The magnitude of these changes has been staggering to those of us who grew up with the old classifications of avian orders and families by researchers such as Gadow, Fürbringer, and Wetmore, or the multiauthored work by Morony, Bock, and Farrand. The stability of those historic, morphologically- based classifications really began to be shaken with the presentation of Sibley and Ahlquist's "tapestry," a phylogenetic tree based on DNA-DNA hybridization that was spread over a huge wall space when I first saw it at the International Ornithological Congress in Ottawa in 1986. Since then, molecular studies have blown many parts of the old classifications to smithereens, and many of the pieces have yet to be completely fit into the ongoing revisions of the phylogeny of birds.

I found Fjeldsa's treatment of this complex subject to be a tour de force, in large part because he takes what otherwise might be a somewhat dry subject and makes it really interesting. In fact, he begins with a section entitled "Why should this be interesting?" He also includes a series of boxed-off sections covering topics such as phylogenies, molecular systematics, Earth history, and species concepts to help readers who wish to understand these specialized areas in more depth. What are some of the high points among the many changes we've seen? First, the extent to which morphology confused our understanding 8f avian relationships is remarkable, and molecular systematics has turned many old notions on their heads. For example, the now well-supported sister relationship between grebes and flamingos flummoxed the experts and shows the extreme effects that selection can have on lineages. And, after ratites (e.g., ostriches, tinamous, kiwis), our taxonomic sequences will have the Galloanseres (the waterfowl and gamebirds - Anseriformes and Galliformes), instead of penguins and loons. The Pelecaniformes, once the domain of the totipalmate waterbirds, has had herons (Ardeidae) added to it, of all things (and the American Ornithologists' Union has split off the Suliformc;s from it, too (frigatebirds, boobies and gannets, cormorants, and anhingas). Falcons (Falconiformes) and hawks and eagles (Accipitriformes) are not as closely related to each other as previously thought. Another surprise is the close relationship between parrots (Psittaciformes) and perching birds (Passeriformes); and Falconiformes are sister to this pair.

Fjeldsa provides a summary phylogenetic tree of the entire class on pages 94-95, and he gives text summaries, usually with illustrations, of the major groups and the changes that have occurred in them. Sections are given interesting subject headings like "The songbirds: the problems with earlier classifications," "What is a babbler and what is not?" and "The redefined Sylviidae." The changes are many, and the rest of the story has yet to be written - there are a number of puzzles remaining to be solved. But Fjeldsa considers (p.81) that "virtually all known living bird species will be included in some sort of molecular phylogeny within the next five years." So most solutions are on the near horizon. Expect to see future field guides show some big shakeups with respect to placement of major groups of birds. Expect, too, that the trend toward many new families with small numbers of species will continue (as evident in the last few volumes of HBW). And how many more species are likely to be recognized? Fjeldsa (p.141) estimates that when we're finished properly evaluating the world's avian diversity there will be about 12,000 species. This represents an increase of about 20% over what the experts thought existed 30-40 years ago.

Fjeldsa goes on in a 39-page section to cover "The discovery of new bird species," which will be of considerable interest to birdwatchers and the adventurous. About 5-7 new species of birds are being described every year, on average, and this does not include subspecies being recognized as full species (splits). Where are the hot spots? South America and eastern Asia. He includes a good section explaining why continued collecting of specimens is necessary. There is also a strong role to be played by birdwatchers in surveying poorly known areas and in monitoring populations in better known regions. Lastly, Fjeldsa provides a guide for how and where to find and describe the Earth's last new bird species.

The next section presents the 128 new species described since their families were published earlier in this series, given in the same style as the previous volumes (i.e., range maps and text giving taxonomy, distribution, description, habitat, diet, and breeding), with the exception that the illustrations are not on full-page plates but are instead placed in the species accounts. While there are many rather plain species, as we might expect as we figure out new cryptic diversity, there are also many colorful ones as well. Most have tiny ranges.

The section describing 15 new Amazonian bird species begins with an overview by Bret Whitney and Mario Cohn-Haft that outlines many of the methods and difficulties in fully understanding and accurately describing avian diversity in the 21" century. Amazing technological advances (e.g., satellite imagery, molecular genetics, analytical algorithms, and computers) are revealing evolutionary complexities among structured populations. In many cases, the divergence levels found rise to the species level, although figuring that out can be quite difficult in taxa with cryptic phenotypic variation; song and genetics are heavily used in addition to the more traditional specimen-based data. As Whitney and Cohn-Haft indicate, we have a lot still to learn about speciation in birds, and more studies in Amazonia will help improve our understanding of this process. Two particularly difficult problems in doing this kind of science are gathering sufficient data to be confident in one's conclusions and determining that what is described is reproductively isolated from its sister population(s). The first problem often means that a lot of time goes by between a new species' discovery and its eventual description (one here was first discovered in 1986). The second means an often challenging process using data and inference to gauge degrees of distinctiveness between populations and how these relate to better-known species-level differences in close relatives. To their credit, this fairly large group of authors and editors chose to include descriptions in which they had confidence that these biological entities were indeed new, species-level taxa. They left out a number of candidates that were just not ready yet; it seems likely that some will be described as subspecies. The editors note that one has to go back to the 1870s to find so many new species described in one publication. The 15 new species descriptions are great examples of how this is done in the 21st century. Hilary Burn has painted very nice illustrations of each of the species, and range maps, sonograms, mtDNA gene trees, and often photographs (of specimens and living birds) are included. The first bird described is the Western Striolated Puffbird, Nystalus obamai. Yes, it is named after President Obama in recognition especially of his push for solar energy, which the authors anticipate will have very positive effects in Amazonia, where hydroelectric dams are likely to cause devastation to critical habitats. Four woodcreepers, four antwrens, a warbling-antbird, three flycatchers, a gnatcatcher, and a jay make up the remaining species descriptions.

The photographs in the "HBW photo gallery" section are simply gratuitous images, included because the editors felt that HBW readers have come to expect "a wide selection of spectacular bird photos." (p.12). The result is 200 images selected from the HBW World Bird Photo Contest of 2012. As in the past volumes, these are not just stunning images of birds; they have been chosen with an eye toward portraying birds in action: flying, feeding, fighting, displaying, swimming, preening, hiding, roosting, nesting, living. Wonderful. I found myself repeatedly laughing with delight as I slowly went through these amazing pages. Birds are great!

Some additional details of the work are noteworthy. In-text citations to HBW material are given in reddish ink by volume and page. In an important stylistic change, the text sections of the volume (outside of the 128 species accounts) have proper in-text citations of the primary literature, something I consider key to enabling the most effective use of important syntheses of scientific information, which these volumes represent. Taxa formerly recognized as subspecies but since publication have been raised to full species status are not included. Splits like these, and the less frequent lumpings, will be included in a forthcoming, two-volume work.

The global index is actually several separate indices, which I consider to be unfortunate. The first is an index to scientific names, the second an index to English names, and the third, fourth, and fifth indices are to French, German, and Spanish names, respectively. Multiple indices are needlessly difficult to use, and at a minimum uniting the English and scientific names into one final index would have improved the usefulness of the effort. These terms all sort just fine alphabetically, and with English being the chosen language for the body of the work the combination of Latin and English names placed at the very end of the volume would have been better. But this is a relatively minor point; what is important is that we have the much-needed index of the entire 17-volume work.

As with prior volumes in this series, I recommend this one to all serious students of birds. And, despite this being the last volume in the series, the HBW project itself will continue in two ways: the two-volume HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World should appear soon, and HBW Alive (, a subscription- based, customizable, online encyclopedia of birds is already live.

Kevin Winker, University of Alaska Museum, 907 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775.