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The Birds of South America: Volume 1: The Oscine Passerines Hardcover – January 1, 1989
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From the Back Cover
'Everyone who works with South American birds, whether amateur birder of professional ornithologist, will want a copy... I hope that everyone will appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into its completion. The authors are to be congratulated. I strongly recommend The Birds Of South America.'
About the Author
ROBERT S. RIDGELY, a leading ornithologist and author of A Guide to the Birds of Panama and The Birds of Ecuador, is Deputy Director of World Land Trust-US. He has served on numerous conservation-related boards, and currently is especially involved with Fundacion Jocotoco in Ecuador, of which he is president.
Top customer reviews
The text is as clear as can be with good discription of the species, accompanied by clear distribution maps.
There are only two drawbacks:
- they did manage to illustrate "only" about 60% of the species (this cost them a star),
- we have to wait very long for the two remaining volumes.
Only this volume (covering the oscine passerines) includes the well-written, informative introductory chapters covering habitats and biogeography; anyone contemplating a birding adventure in South America would be well-served by reading and rereading those chapters.
No one credibly doubts Robert Ridgely's placement among the foremost authorities on the bird life of tropical America, and especially of South America. In this volume he coherently and accessibly takes the reader through the taxonomic minefield that is the bird life of the oscine passerines of South America. He introduces each family with a brief but useful paragraph. He then similarly introduces each genus, and within each generic subchapter are found the species accounts for all birds associated with that genus (be prepared for numerous disclaimers related to ongoing taxonomic disputes).
The species accounts are rewarding and authoritative. Each account includes a section covering identification, followed by a reference to similar species with which the subject might be confused. Perhaps most useful is the section addressing habitat and behavior, summarizing in one place information previously scattered among dozens (hundreds?) of disparate resources (and including a healthy dose of information gleaned from the author's observations of many species). Finally, a written description of the South American range, including elevational distribution (in meters). That range description is supported in each account by a range map in which the species range is shaded in gray. It is after the range description that any taxonomic "footnote" is included.
Guy Tudor is ranked as one of the outstanding wildlife illustrators (he has also collaborated with Steven Hilty on guides to Colombia and Venezuela, to cite well-known examples). The plates in this volume certainly merit praise for their beauty, but perhaps more crucially for their accurate depictions of living birds (no small feat!). This reviewer has first-hand experience with only a small percentage of the birds found on the South American continent (and to date no experience in South America), but I find these few species illustrated faithfully.
It is true that the plates do not include illustrations of every species described in the text. The plates do include at least one member of each genus and of each group within large genera (excepting North American migrants, of which a "selection of common migrants has been included"). The plates portray any "range of variation within each genus or group", and preference is given to species which are "numerous or widespread, all other factors being equal, over those which are relatively scarce". Preference is given to species "found mainly or entirely in eastern or Southern South America; these tend to be less well known as compared with birds found in northern and western South America". And finally, Ridgely and Tudor wanted to "illustrate approximately two-thirds of the species within each (large) genus". They resolved "not to give short shrift to females, as so often is done".
It is inconceivable that any serious student of South American (or even tropical American) bird life would consider his or her library complete without this volume.
Back in the days, Robert Ridgely's and Guy Tudor's work was a major breakthrough. Before 1970, no reliable field guide to South American birds existed at all. Tongue in cheek, Ridgely says that he experienced some difficulty when trying to identify birds around Machu Picchu in Peru solely based on their Latin names! I suppose this gives an entirely new meaning to the expression “anno dazumal”. In 1970, Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee published his “Guide to the Birds of South America”, based entirely on museum specimens and with no illustrations (sic), but this was already a major improvement.
The next major step was taken when Ridgely and Tudor finally managed to publish their “field handbook” in 1984 (the book on this product page), covering the oscine passerines. About two-thirds of the described species are illustrated. The species presentations include sections on identification, habitat and behavior, similar specie and range. The color plates are in a separate section.
Today, even this book feels dated, due to “Handbook of the Birds of the World”. There are also a number of modern field guides dealing with various South American nations. While Ridgely-Tudor's oscine extravaganza is mostly a museum piece in its own right these days, it deserves five stars for the enormous effort the author and his illustrator put down into producing it.