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Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds Hardcover – January 1, 1999
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In praising earlier volumes of this astonishing tour de force, HBW reviewers have practically exhausted the lexicon of superlatives. This volume is of exactly the same very high standard, which can hardly be improved upon. A true handbook, it is a weighty, handsome, magnificently illustrated, authoritative, comprehensive, up-to-date compilation of biological information concerning one-twelfth of the World's birds: the barn-owls, strigid owls, nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds and their bizarre and ler-known relatives. Each species account is complete, with a colour map of World range, taxonomic and descriptive notes, a list of subspecies, mini-essays on habitat, foraging, breeding and movements, a responsible statement on status and conservation, and an ample bibliography. All species and many subspecies are portrayed in the delightful and informative plates, by 19 renowned artists who have somehow been persuaded to paint in similar styles.
The orders embrace ten families, each starting with a lengthy and scholarly but easy-to-read essay, generously illustrated with new and stunning colour photographs, with well-researched discussion of systematics, morphology, habitat, habits, voice, food and feeding, breeding, movements, relationship with Man, and status and conservation. Some essays summarise what follows in the species accounts, and others go much farther: the hummingbird and owl family essays amount to 175 pages. You will be enthralled to read them and delighted by the photographs depicting the weird and wonderful lives of oilbirds, frogmouths, potoos, owlet-nightjars and tree-swifts (to titillate you with some of the less familiar family names). Wonderful birds!
Pervading the entire work is the conservation message, so ably spelled out by Nigel Collar in his 16-page Foreword to this volume, which should be compulsory reading for all of the World's politicians, developers and consumers -i.e. all of us- for it tells what will be the shape of life on Earth before we have moved very far into this new millennium. C. H. Fry -- British Birds, 93:206-208, April 4, 2000
This stunning series continues to be a must purchase for anyone more than casually interested in birds. The birds of the world are covered here in introductory passages at the family level, with lavish color photographs (406 of them), followed by illustrated species accounts (76 color plates) with range maps.
I will not repeat details of the series' organization and layout, since these have been covered in previous reviews. Birds included in this volume are the barn-owls, owls, Caprimulgiformes (nightjars, potoos, frogmouths, oilbirds and others), swifts, tree swifts, and hummingbirds. Perhaps the extraordinary color photographs are what set this series so far apart from anything else in ornithological literature. Some stunning examples include the senatorial-looking Crested Owl, a South American bird with half-foot long protruding white "eye brows;" a Great Horned Owl peering over a Southwest US redrock canyon (a photograph that belongs in an art gallery); owlet nightjars that look more like strange mammals than birds; frogmouths and potoos that are perfectly camouflaged with their perches; swifts congregating behind Iguazu Falls in Argentina; and a plethora of fabulous hummingbirds, including a woodstar excreting waste as it sucks nectar -apparently transit time of nutrients through hummingbird digestive systems may be less than 15 minutes due to "the high number of glucose transporters in its intestinal tissue." This list is just a minute example of the wonders to be found within this book.
The color illustrations, by 19 artists, are uniformly excellent. The hummingbird plates by E. Barnes and H. D. Pratt are particularly stunning. Many books that cover individual bird families of the world are appearing on the market. Rather than purchasing these, I would recommend these volumes instead.
I noticed more of a conservation focus to this volume, compared to the previous ones in the series. Perhaps this emphasis is due to so many tropical species being endangered by deforestation. However, the introduction, "Risk Indicators and Status Assessment in Birds," seems particularly addressed to conservation workers rather than to a more general audience. It includes, for example, several pages describing the World Conservation Union's criteria for describing the status of birds of the world. For better or worse, I suspect most readers will have little use for this information. I also noticed more of an emphasis on ethno-ornithology -the role of birds in folklore and literature. This focus greatly adds to the value of the book.
The dust jacket claims there are about 8000 bibliographical references contained within Volume 5. The references are actually the most serious criticism I can offer on the book. They appear as single units at the end of each species account and as general bibliography following each family section. In the text itself, individual facts are not referenced appropriately (or at all, for that matter). Thus easily checking material at the primary source is difficult, if not impossible, a major drawback to an otherwise perfect series.
If you cannot afford these texts, by all means encourage your local library to make this purchase. You and your community will have an invaluable source of information about the birds of the world. Dan Tallman -- South Dakota Bird Notes, 52(2):44, June 1, 2000
With the appearance of Volume 5 (of a projected 12 volumes) of this series, reviewers are running out of superlatives. To embark upon the task of producing a fully illustrated handbook covering every species of bird in the world is audacious enough; to actually bring it off at the level of quality established in this series will be an incredible accomplishment. At this point, the odds of completing the series sometime near the target of 2010 look very promising indeed. Not only is the book comprehensive and authoritative, it is also beautiful. Despite the wealth of detailed information that is de rigueur in a work of this sort, the text, especially the lengthy treatments of each of the families, is very readable in spite of being packed with interesting facts.
This volume covers the families Tytonidae (barn-owls; 16 species), Strigidae (true owls; 189 species), Steatornithidae (Oilbird; 1 species), Aegothelidae (owlet-nightjars; 9 species), Podargidae (frogmouths; 12 species), Nyctibiidae (potoos; 7 species), Caprimulgidae (nightjars; 89 species), Apodidae (swifts; 92 species), Hemiprocnidae (tree-swifts; 4 species), and Trochilidae (hummingbirds; 328 species). Several of these are difficult groups. The nocturnal owls, nightjars, and allies often are poorly known, and very few species have been studied in detail. In these groups, as well as in the swifts and hummingbirds, the relationships of genera and species limits are not well understood.
As with previous volumes, this one contains a foreword dealing with some general topic. In this case, Nigel Collar discusses risk indicators and status assessment in birds. He describes, with examples, the IUCN system for classifying the conservation status of bird populations. After discussing the criteria used to identify species at risk, Collar concludes that "...the single most important perception that follows from the criteria...is that the majority of extinction-prone species can only be secured by protected areas, many of them large, many of them strict; only, in other words, by setting aside significant tracts of the planet with the full intention that the factors rendering their inhabitants extinction-prone shall be absolutely minimized" (p.26). This, of course, is not news, but perhaps if we repeat it enough times we will someday actually do something about it. It is possible that he thought the connection so self evident as to require no explicit comment, but I think it unfortunate that he made no mention whatsoever of unrestrained growth in the human population, the direct cause of exacerbating factor in virtually all of the problems faced by bird populations that are at risk.
Each family is introduced with a lengthy discussion that includes information on the fossil record and taxonomic history of the family, morphology, habitats occupied, general habits with many specific examples, voice, food and feeding habits, breeding behavior and ecology, movements, relationships with humans (an eclectic collection that is fun to read), and status and conservation. These family accounts are heavily illustrated with stunning photographs that are not only technically superb in nearly all cases, but also illustrate a vast array of interesting aspects of the biology of these birds. The photos are not just present as pretty pictures (though they are surely that), because most of them make some salient point related to the accompanying text. Simply locating all of these photographs must have been a daunting task. Given that many of the species treated in this volume are nocturnal and poorly known, it is remarkable that such excellent images even exist. Many rare photos and photos of rare species appear: Congo Bay-Owl (Phodilus prigoginei), a species with only two definite records from a single locality; Long-whiskered Owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi), a cloud-forest endemic discovered in Peru in 1977; Sokoke Scops-Owl (Otus ireneae); Seychelles Scops-Owl (O. insularis); Comoro Scops-Owl (O. pauliani), known only from the type specimen and a few photos; the only known photo of Javan Scops-Owl (O. angelinae); Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti), rediscovered in 1998 in India; Puerto Rican Nightjar (Caprimulgus noctithersus); Scissor-tailed Hummingbird (Hylonympha macrocerca) of northeastern Venezuela; Juan Fernandez Firecrown (Sephanoides fernandensis); and numerous others. As others reviewers have noted, these volumes easily qualify as beautiful coffee table books as well as serious scientific works.
The species accounts come after the treatment of each family and follow a standard format. French, German, and Spanish common names are provided. Taxonomic notes follow, including reference to the original description (citations provided in a separate reference list). Distribution is described, and if there are recognized subspecies, their ranges are very briefly noted. Each species account is accompanied by a range map. These appear to be generally accurate, but they are small and not detailed. A description is given for sexes and ages, including a verbal description of vocalizations. The descriptions are not designed to facilitate field identification, and little note is made of features that distinguish similar species. Then follow brief descriptions of habitat, food and feeding habits, breeding season, nest, clutch size, etc., movements, and status and conservation. Each account ends with a list of citations by name and date; full references appear in the bibliography. Information on many of these species is scant, so most of the species accounts are short (typically about a half column). The extensively studied and worldwide Barn owl (Tyto alba) merited the longest account in the series so far (one and two-third pages).
The species accounts are accompanied by color plates by 19 artists. Each species is illustrated, and in cases where significant geographic variation or color morphs exist, there may be as many as three or four illustrations per species. Both sexes are depicted when there is significant sexual dimorphism in plumage. The birds are presented in unadorned field-guide type plates, typically in perched poses. Swifts are depicted in flight, and small flight paintings accompany many of the nightjars as well. The plates vary somewhat in accuracy, but overall they are excellent.
In such a massive volume containing so much factual information, there must be a substantial number of errors and omissions. Experts on particular species and groups will no doubt delight in pointing these out. In general, extralimital records are very inconsistently presented. In North America, for example, Texas occurrences of Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) and Stygian Owl (Asio stygius), many records of Plain-capped Starthroat (Heliomaster constantii) in Arizona and Bahama Woodstar (Calliphlox evelynae) in Florida, and Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) occurrences in Arizona and New Mexico are not mentioned, whereas old and probably invalid Texas records of Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (A. tzacatl) are noted. The Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus) is said to stray to the extreme southwestern United States, when in fact the records are from the central and eastern parts of North America. A bird reported (p. 413, 420 to be a Black Swift (Cypseloides niger) of Caribbean origin from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, was never identified and may, in fact, have been an Apus (W. Petersen pers. comm.). These are quibbles; the book was not intended to deal with distribution in this detail. However, readers should be warned that this information should be taken with a grain of salt.
The most serious flaw in these volumes, and one that reduces their usefulness, is that references are not cited in the text. Reading the family accounts, one comes across many interesting and provocative statements and fascinating facts that merit further exploration. But the text provides no efficient way to find the source of the information. At the end of each family account appears an extensive list of references, but without titles. The only way to try to ferret out the source of a particular piece of information is to check each of these citations against the bibliography. All but the most persistent readers will throw up their hands in the face of this task. The usefulness of future volumes would be greatly enhanced by using small superscript numerals or some other space-efficient means of connecting information with its source. Approximately 8,000 references are cited, and it is a shame that this vast collection of data is not made more accessible.
This volume, along with its companions, represents a stunning achievement. Collectively, this set of volumes will be the indispensable primary source of information on the birds of the world for the next several decades.
KENNETH P. ABLE -- Auk, Vol.117(2): 532-534, January 1, 2000
About the Author
Thomas Züchner: Alexander Koenig Research Institute and Zoological Museum, Bonn, Germany K. L. Wood: Owl Research Institute, Missoula, Montana, USA. David R. Wells: Research affiliate, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, England formerly University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia. A. A. Weller: Department of Ornithology, Alexander König Research Institute and Museum of Zoology, Bonn, Germany. B. T. Thomas: Formerly Independent Researcher, Venezuela, late of Virginia, USA. F. G. Stiles: Professor and Curator of Ornithology, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. K. P. Segars: Owl Research Institute, Missoula, Montana, USA. P. E. Scott: Assistant Professor of Life Science, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana, USA. K. L. Schuchmann: Curator and Lecturer, Department of Ornithology, Alexander König Research Institute and Museum of Zoology, and University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany. M. S. Roy: Lecturer and Research Scientist in Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics, University of Otago, Department of Zoology, Dunedin, New Zealand.
J. H. Rappole: Research Scientist, Conservation and Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, Virginia, USA. José Luis Rángel Salazar : D. R. Powers: Professor, Biology Department, George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon, USA. A. T. Peterson: Associate Professor and Curator, University of Kansas Natural History Museum, Lawrence, Kansas, USA. J. L. Petersen: Owl Research Institute, Missoula, Montana, USA. P. D. Olsen: Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. H. Mikkola: Department of Applied Zoology and Veterinary Medicine, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland. J. S. Marks: Assistant Professor, Division of Biological Sciences and Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA. D. T. Holyoak: Consultant, Cornwall, England. D. W. Holt: Owl Research Institute, Missoula, Montana, USA. C. Hinkelmann: Bardowick, Germany. I. Heynen: Wuppertal, Germany. M. Heindl: Munich, Germany. Jon Fjeldså: Zoologisk Museum, Københavns Universitet, Denmark. P. L. Enríquez Rocha: El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. C. Deppe: N. J. Collar: Research Fellow, BirdLife International, Cambridge, England.
Mario Cohn-Haft, Nigel Cleere, P. Chantler: Freelance Ornithologist, Kent Ornithological Society, England. P. Chai: Department of Zoology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA. R. J. Cannings: Freelance Biologist and Consultant, Naramata, British Columbia, Canada. W. A. Calder: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA. R. Bündgen: Department of Ornithology, Alexander König Research Institute and Museum of Zoology, Bonn, Germany. Murray D. Bruce: Biocon Research Group, Turramurra, Australia. R. Berkley, D. L. Altshuler: Graduate Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA. ARTISTS: Richard Allen, Norman Arlott, Eustace Barnes, Hilary Burn, Clive Byers, John Cox, Mark Hulme, Francesc Jutglar, Àngels Jutglar, Ian Lewington, Toni Llobet, Hector C. Miranda, jr., Dave Nurney, Douglas Pratt, Lluís Sanz, Etel Vilaró, Jan Wilczur, Ian Willis, Tim Worfolk.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the fifth volume of the HBW. It describes three very different orders: the Owls (Strigiformes), the Nightjars and allies (Caprimulgiformes) and the Swifts, Tree-Swifts and Hummingbirds (Apodiformes). I always find it fascinating that the screeching, fast and even somewhat bizarre swifts outside my window are actually related to hummingbirds! But the most absurd birds in this volume are surely the Caprimulgiformes. It includes the Potoos, which are perfect mimics of tree stumps - a large color photo shows this strange ability (try to spot the bird in it!). Further, there are the strictly nocturnal Oilbirds, which communicate in bat-like manner through eco-location. Apparently, scientists who visit the caves where the Oilbirds live have to wear protective masks - the damp caves are a haven for a fungus that causes the lung disease known as histoplasmosis.
The text in the HBW is rather heavy and takes some time to get used to. These books, after all, are primarily intended for ornithologists (with or without protective gear). However, the large amounts of illustrations and color photos might appeal to a more general audience. Unfortunately, these books are extremely expensive, no doubt precisely because of the color (and colorful) photos.
I tend to give these books five stars hands down, and so is the case with volume 5.
The only real areas of concern, again in reference to the hummingbird section, were in the lack of consistency in the plates, sweeping taxonomic revisions, and editorial bias. Most of the plates are wonderful, but a few are so stylized as to scarcely resemble a real hummingbird, much less the one being portrayed (among the owl plates, too, are some exquisite portraits and some that are cartoonish). Some fairly major revisions of taxonomy - including lumping and splitting of species plus generic reassignments - provide food for thought, but many are controversial and may ultimately be rejected by the ornithological community.
More distressing are the expressed and implied prejudices of the section editor. When published observations disagreed with his unsubstantiated opinion on one issue, he repeatedly insisted that these observations must be wrong. As the editor is European, his opinions are no doubt influenced by his limited field experience with hummingbirds, but it is an abuse of editorial privilege (not to mention unscientific) to use such a forum to arrogantly dismiss the findings of one's colleagues. Moreover, among the 18 authors of hummingbird species accounts I found only a single Latino name and none I recognized as belonging to women, though there are many highly qualified and experienced Latin American and/or female researchers in the field. These are idiosyncracies of this particular editor, and I would not expect these issues to rear their ugly heads throughout the series.