Handbook of the Birds of the World: Mousebirds to Hornbills Hardcover – Mar 2001
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The first five volumes deal with birds that are biologically much closer to reptiles and less significant in the context noted above than the passerine and “near passerine” birds covered in the rest of the series. These species – most of which still live outside the Enriched World where present-day extinction rates are exceedingly rapid compared to most of geological history – often have lifestyles and life cycles that are vastly different from notions ecologists will gain from studying (most at all events) Enriched World species. Instead of the rapid dispersal and metabolism possible on the exceptionally young and fertile Enriched soils, the Coliiformes and most of the Coraciiformes are adopted to very slow metabolism and intense cooperation to deal with the poor diets available on more geologically “normal” soils in Australia, Southern Africa and most of the Tropics. Such species as the mousebirds and the Southern Ground Hornbill are obligate cooperative breeders which must have helpers to reproduce due to the scarce or poor diets, whilst numerous other coraciiform species such as the kookaburras, todies and other hornbills are less obligate cooperators which still have strong sociality. The ground hornbills are particularly noteworthy as probably the longest-lived and slowest-breeding of all birds (including famously long-lived seabirds), with an average lifespan of over thirty years (comparable to pre-modern humanity), a feature which makes them extremely vulnerable to increased human population and more intense farming.
This first “near passerine” volume gives excellent detail of the unique metabolism of the mousebirds – involving frequent torpor in order to digest their poor quality food at low costs and something that those with even a passing interest in ornithology would do well to note – and the unusual, almost “hybrid” mating systems of the trogons, as well as the basic information about each family found in the later passerine volumes. Other less unusual details are also written to very good effect, and the excellent structure as in other ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World’ editions make it the usual easy read in spite of its large size.
There exist impressive details, too, on how the present taxa evolved – many are relicts in less “competitive” environments: once found widely throughout Europe and North America but now restricted to either the Neotropics or the Afrotropics where they are not uncompetitive as they are with the high present-day Enriched World secondary productivity. The pictures, too, are some of the most noticeable I have seen in the entire series, especially of the trogons, which are famous for their bright colours yet I find the subdued females equally beautiful and no less easy to recognise than the males.
Even though this sixth edition is very expensive, it si exceptionally valuable as reference.
Each family is introduced by a large chapter with the following sub-headings: Systematics, Morphological Aspects, Habitat, General Habits, Voice, Food and Feeding, Breeding, Movements, Relationship with Man, Status and Conservation. Species presentations follow. All species and many subspecies described in the text are illustrated on large, full-page color plates. There are also a lot of photos, all in color, in the introductory chapters.
The text is not sufficiently popularized, and the HBW is therefore primarily intended for large libraries or scientific institutions. The price is also forbidding. Each volume costs about 260 dollars, presumably excluding postage and packing. Take that times 16, and you have the approximate price for the entire series. It's 4,160 dollars. See my point?
However, if you have a very serious interest in, say, hornbills or bee-eaters, investing in this volume might nevertheless be a good idea. Apart from Amazon, all volumes are also available from Lynx Edicions through their website.
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