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on August 25, 2014
Recent years, as I have a look at major environmental questions and their impact upon history, have seen me devour many works relating to the ecology of birds and mammals, and how these can be related to differences in tectonics and geology around the globe. The small clutches and intense, extended parental care of birds residing in the "Indian Rim" of the Australian and Afrotropical zones have long been known to scientists but only recently have been seriously analysed in a large number of academic books. These need to be read by the general public for the clues they provide to how different these regions are ecologically from the extratropical northern and western hemispheres, as well as for understanding and appreciating these species.

Nonetheless, this impressive eighth volume of "Handbook of the Birds of the World" takes on a totally different world, one which has much more in common with the well-studied parts of the Enriched World in terms of its super-fertile soils and absence of cooperative breeding, but which crucially differs in lacking the northern Enriched World's severe winters. In this environment of Spanish-speaking Latin America have developed primitive suboscine passerines which lack the well-developed song learning of oscines, and which thus have much simpler vocal repetoires that outside the tropics are in typically "Enriched" fashion confined to males in spite of general sexual monomorphy, although females do vocalise extensively in tropical species according to the latest research (more recent than this book). In spite of this, the voices of many of these suboscine species can be quite fascinating though little-recorded except in local names for these species, which can be unusually colourful such as "huet huet", "turca", "chucao".

More notable, however, is the exceptional detain on breeding, mass, nesting details and species abundance of little-studied species of Latin America, which is of extreme value for those comparing global ecology. The detail on breeding, clutch size and nesting type is revealing for many species in the extremely eutrophic south of South America and very valuable for the broadbills and other species of tropical Central and South America, which are unknown to most birdwatchers throughout the world and never discussed in academic publications on the topic. Despite lack of crucial details on longevity and mortality, the details that do exist are enough to help the reader understand adequately for most purpose the suboscine passerines - an important part of the bird world that seldom gains much note except for a few well-studied lekking species covered in the ninth volume. The pictures provided are also extremely good and clear, and give a realistic look at critically understudied sections of the ornithological world, and even a person with no knowledge of ornithology should not have too much trouble identifying the species in pictures.

This volume of "Handbook of the Birds of the World" will teach people a lot of many species they are unlikely to have heard of and appreciate the diversity of life histories found in birds thorughout the world. What makes it special is how little-studied the suboscine species are, and this made it attract far more attention than other volumes.
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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.
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