on July 25, 2012
This is the eight volume of Lynx Edicions' "Handbook of the Birds of the World" (HBW). It's the first volume to cover passerines. 9 families of suboscine passerines are included: Broadbills, Asities, Pittas, Ovenbirds, Woodcreepers, Typical Antbirds, Ground Antbirds, Gnateaters and Tapaculos. You may be excused for never hearing about them before.
As usual, the amount of information is staggering. The editors virtually brag about previously unpublished material on poorly known Neotropical genera, unique photos, etc. The authors themselves have gathered much of the new information, or consulted highly competent bird-watchers or field ornithologists. I believe them!
The HBW includes both presentations of each family, species presentations, color plates of all described species and a lot of spectacular photos (also in color). The family presentations are divided into the following sections: Systematics, Morphological Aspects, Habitat, General Habits, Voice, Food and Feeding, Breeding, Movements, Relationship with Man, Status and Conservation. If that isn't enough to floor you, each species presentation deals with Taxonomy, Distribution, Descriptive Notes, Habitat, Food and Feeding, Breeding, Movements, Status and Conservation. Had enough? No? Each volume of HBW also contains a special chapter on some aspect of ornithology, this time it's the history of bird systematics.
It seems the passerines included in this volume are particularly elusive or otherwise problematic. The asities (singular asity) have move around the entire bird family tree, sometimes regarded as starlings, sometimes as birds-of-paradise or sunbirds. Today, they have gotten their own little family among the suboscines. The broadbills are another problematic group, perhaps because they don't look passerine. Some resemble rollers, while the Green Broadbill looks like a petit quetzal. By contrast, the information on typical antbirds is almost ridiculously detailed, included 8 full-size pages just on the ant-following species. However, I must say that the antbirds have very unimaginative names: antshrikes, antvireos, antwrens... OK, let me guess, they have some kind of relationship with...ants? Sometimes, the authors just can't have a straight face. Under "Gnateaters: Relationship with Man", they tell us that the only people interested in these diminutive birds are bird-watchers or ornithologists! The best photo in the entire volume shows a Blackish Cinclodes (an ovenbird, apparently) sitting atop a sea lion on the Falkland Islands. Otherwise, I kind of fancied the vernacular names of the tapaculos: Chestnut-throated Huet-Huet, Moustached Turca, Crested Gallito or Chucao Tapaculo. Sounds like a bunch of characters from Speedy Gonzales!
Perhaps I must emphasize that we are dealing with a very serious scientific reference work, not entirely suited for the general reader...
Be that as it may, I must (of course) give Gallito, Cinclodes and all their friends FIVE stars.