Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds: Volume 6: Pardlotes to Shrike-thrushes Hardcover – Jun 1 2004
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From the Publisher
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This sixth of seven volumes in ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds’ is the most important of all because it covers most of the “old endemic” passerine families in which the unique lifestyles of Australian birds are concentrated. Such families as Neosittidae and Corcoracidae, faced with foraging in extremely hard timber or soil of high bulk density due to the absence of nutrients taken for granted elsewhere in today’s Earth, must live in highly complex societies simply to survive. It is impossible for sittella or mudnester pairs to find enough food for their young to raise even a single nestling, so that non-breeding adults must do a large proportion of the labour to raise two or three nestlings over an extremely extended period of parental care. A Varied Sittella nestling can (by my own calculations) require twenty times as many bird-hours to reach independence as similar-sized Enriched World nestlings. Even species with less demanding foraging niches and lacking obligate cooperation can be seen in this sixth volume of ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds’ to require much more labour than Enriched World species of roughly equivalent ecological niches. Once one can grasp these differences, ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds’ becomes a much more valuable read than the mass of dry data would seem to make it on first impression.
The series does not have that many actual pictures of birds – it is much more purely a “reference” series than the ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’ – but the quality of its descriptions, which are written in language that is not tough for a layman to understand, more than makes up for this.
The details given of each species within ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds’ are exceptional – in fact superior to those given in the corresponding ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’ chapters. Exact and precise clutch sizes, details of frequency of cooperation amongst the large number of “facultative” (frequent but not obligate) cooperative breeding species, and highly detailed accounts of next success and failure are not matched by the international equivalent ornithological handbook. There are also greater details of sizes and masses of each bird species found in Australia, surrounding islands and New Zealand than in any other reference work. The details of social organisation are particularly detailed, covering not only breeding but also non-breeding birds during poorer years of secondary productivity so low no young can be reared even cooperatively, along with much more banding details than the simple longevity and movement records found in ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’.
There are also many and surprising details of diet and ecology of these species – for example even experts may not know how White-Winged Choughs, among the most “Australian” of birds, are known to forage in shallow creeks for molluscs – and the precise statistics become informing rather than boring upon repeated readings.
All in all, this sixth volume, ‘Pardalotes to Shrike-Thrushes’ is a rare and expensive but exceedingly valuable ornithological work – both encyclopedia and basic textbook of an avian world much closer to most of geological history than where almost all ornithologists learned their profession.
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