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Handbook of the Birds of the World: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds Hardcover – Aug 1999


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Hardcover, Aug 1999
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Bizarre birds July 25 2012
By Ashtar Command - Published on Amazon.com
The "Handbooks of the Birds of the World" is a super-encylopedia spanning 16 volumes, published by Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International. It really does cover all living species of bird known to science. All 9,000 of them! Well, almost all. A supplemental volume with about 60 entirely new species will be published at some point next year.

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.
16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
An unprecedented resource Nov. 8 2000
By Sheri - Published on Amazon.com
This is the only volume of the Handbook series I have so far, but based on it I would seriously consider investing money (and bookshelf space) in the entire set. For hummingbirds at least, this is the first modern treatment of all the world's known species, with illustrations and range maps as well as text, plus a detailed overview of current knowledge on biology, behavior, ecology, taxonomy, evolution, etc. Each species is illustrated field guide-style, with good representation of sexes and geographic variation. The species accounts are short but pithy and include conservation status.
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.


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