Recent ornithological publications


The titles reviewed in this section of Ibis are available for reference at the Alexander Library of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford, UK. The library is open to BOU members, Monday to Friday (09:00–17:00 h). Please write or telephone (+44 (0)1865 271143) prior to your visit to ensure the library is open.

The aim of the Alexander Library is to build up a comprehensive collection of literature as a service to ornithologists. Its holdings include an extensive range of periodicals and a large number of reprints drawn from many sources: additional reprints of readers’ papers are always welcome. The library has always greatly benefited from its close relationship with the BOU. For a number of years, all journals received in exchange for Ibis have been deposited in the library, and through the generosity of reviewers, most of the books sent for review.

In return, as a service to readers, this review section of Ibis is organized and edited by Michael G. Wilson and Professor Ben Sheldon of the Edward Grey Institute, with the help of a panel of contributors. They are always grateful for offers of further assistance with reviewing, especially with foreign language titles.

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Adams, M.V. Bird-Witched! How Birds Can Change a Life. 240 pages, many black-and-white photographs, line-drawings. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2005. Hardback, $24.95, ISBN 0292709498.

Unlike us reticent Brits, Americans seem particularly keen on setting down their birding memories in book form. In recent years, we have seen Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, Phoebe Snetsinger's Birding on Borrowed Time (reviewed in Ibis 145: 706), and the regular appearance of collected articles by the doyen of US writers on birds, Pete Dunne.

Bird-Witched (don't let the title put you off!) is not as polished or well written as these works, but nevertheless is worth a read – notably because, having reached her tenth decade, Marjorie Adams has some fascinating memories to draw on. These memories go back to the early days of modern birding in the US, and feature such legends as Ludlow Griscom, Roger Tory Peterson and Jim Tucker – founder of the American Birding Association.

Adams’ encounters with the legendary Peterson are particularly interesting. We learn that the great artist was an owl rather than a lark, doing his best work in the wee small hours, then spending the first hour of the morning –‘the best one to see the world’– enjoying the dawn chorus, before retiring to bed.

And, of course, there are the birds: a memorable encounter with a baby Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos in a raging hurricane; a first sighting of a Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus while being eaten alive by ants; and a host of other memorable moments.

The problem is that these encounters and memories – of people, places and birds – are more or less randomly assembled, and presented in a rather folksy, over-upbeat style. Although this may appeal to the target readership in North America, it is unlikely to find much favour in Britain, where reticence and understatement are valued.

However, persistent readers will, I hope, reach the final section of the book, where Adams tells her most gripping story of all: how she and her husband Red – and an army of conservationists from Texas and beyond – helped save the breeding grounds of the Golden-cheeked Warbler Dendroica chrysoparia from disappearing under concrete and condos.

Although their efforts may have saved the bird from extinction, Adams is shrewd enough to point out the moral dilemmas faced by conservationists, as a result of whose efforts, many ordinary Texans discover that the land they own and on which they depended for an income in retirement, has become virtually worthless.

It is a salutary tale, which reveals how much we need people with such dedication and passion for birds as Marjorie and Red Adams.

Stephen Moss

Anderson, T.R. Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow: From Genes to Populations. 547 pages, many figures and tables. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Hardback, $89.50, £54.00, ISBN 019530411X and 9780195304114.

There are surely few birds in the world that have generated so much interest (to scientists throughout the 20th century), indifference (among a majority of the public up until the last few years), or anger (anyone trying to tend a cereal crop in the early 1900s), in almost equal measure, as the House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Instantly recognizable, yet largely ignored because of its ‘ordinariness’, the House Sparrow has moved towards the centre stage in recent years, precisely because of its fall from ordinariness, as populations have declined dramatically in parts of North America and Western Europe, particularly in urban centres.

An excellent previous treatise in 1963 documented its biology (The House Sparrow by J. Denis Summers-Smith), but Ted Anderson's work now brings the story bang up to date, in a comprehensive, scientifically rigorous manner. The ‘From genes to populations’ of the subtitle means exactly what it says. Ten chapters effectively cover the entire biology and ecology of the House Sparrow from beak to tail: from a thorough synthesis of both historical and modern research, detailing its basic breeding biology, physiology and anatomy, to a comprehensive discussion of its population genetic structure that has been garnered using the latest techniques of molecular genetics, to a review of moult characteristics that would delight any ringer and the pitfalls of using skull ossification to age juveniles – this book draws on data from all over the world. Of particular relevance is a chapter reviewing recent population trends in Europe and North America and the latest hypotheses put forward to explain the House Sparrow's decline, including increased predation pressure, disease and/or agricultural intensification.

Notably well referenced, the book includes figures taken from principal data sources where these help to clarify particular points, as well as summary tables of, for example, reproductive parameters from studies of populations across the globe – an invaluable source of information. However, despite the impressive level of detail presented, the author still manages to set it within the context of the House Sparrow's undeniable impact on, and relationship with, the human world. If you have a question about the function of male badge-size, the House Sparrow's role as a vector of disease, or Professor Bumpus's seminal work on natural selection, this book will provide the answers, for scientist and layperson alike. Indeed, it is quite extraordinary how much information has been accumulated over the last century on this single species – yet Ted Anderson's remarkable book manages to pull together the greater part of it in an authoritative, accessible way, thereby highlighting the House Sparrow's still largely unrecognized utility as a ‘model’ species. Simply put, if you have any interest in the biology of this quintessential ‘little brown bird’, still an enigma in many ways, then Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow is an absolute must.

David G. Hole

Bakken, V., Boertmann, D., Mosbech, A., Olsen, B., Petersen, A., Strøm, H. & Goodwin, H. Nordic Seabird Colony Databases. Results of a Nordic Project on Seabird Breeding Colonies in Faroes, Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen and Svalbard. (TemaNord 2006: 512.) 96 pages, colour photographs, figures and tables. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2006. Paperback, DKK190.00, ISBN 9289313013. Website:

Some of the largest seabird colonies in the North Atlantic occur in the polar and subpolar regions that include Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard and the Faroes, where 30 species form about 10 000 colonies containing some 50 million breeding pairs. Many of these colonies are in relatively remote and inaccessible locations and thus difficult to census, at least on a regular basis. Congratulations to the authors on bringing together the most up-to-date census figures to form harmonized breeding colony databases. These are summarized here as a series of tables by region, along with maps on which the individual colonies are marked. The associated text describes existing monitoring programmes, and presents results in brief on the main breeding species, overall population size estimates and trends, as well as, perhaps most important of all, identifying main data gaps and concerns. The remainder of the book is devoted to a description of the database system (held in Access and linked to ArcGIS), and a User's Manual (appendix). The database programme can be downloaded free of charge from:

This is a useful summary of recent breeding-census efforts in these northern regions. There are also valuable abstracts in Danish, Norwegian, Greenlandic and Icelandic. Some indication of the relative importance of each colony by site/location would have been informative, along with more detailed census data at least for the main colonies, as a series of appendices, but perhaps these are planned for one or more separate publications.

Peter G.H. Evans

Bildstein, K.L. Migrating Raptors of the World: their Ecology and Conservation. 320 pages, 16 colour plates (photographs), 40 figures (black-and-white photographs, maps, graphs), 19 tables. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006. Hardback, $35.00, £19.95, ISBN 9780801441790 and 080144179X.

Raptor migration is a subject that has fascinated people for centuries, a fact that is clearly demonstrated in this new book by Keith Bildstein. The Preface states that it ‘combines an up-to-date balanced overview of the principal aspects of raptor-migration science and conservation, together with a detailed global geography of the phenomenon’ and, in my opinion, it has been successful in achieving this purpose.

The book contains ten chapters: The phenomenon of raptor migration; Origins and evolution of raptor migration (raptors appear able to adapt rapidly to changing conditions); History of raptor-migration studies (ranging from observations in the 13th century to today's studies using satellite telemetry, radar and stable isotopes); Flight strategies; Orientation and navigation; Ecology of migratory raptors; Migration geography; Migration life histories; Great hawkwatches; and Protecting migratory raptors. Each chapter includes a useful synthesis and conclusions of the main points. The text is readable and accessible to the novice as well as the serious researcher. Of particular help to the former, technical terms are presented in italics and explained in detail in a glossary, while the latter will appreciate the comprehensive list of over 550 references. Although all of the world's well-known raptor watchpoints are mentioned, six of the 12 described are from North America; the others are in Central America (two), Europe (three) and Israel (Eilat).

Well researched overall, the book does have inconsistencies, the most apparent to me being the treatment of the raptor flyway through Arabia and Djibouti. This is omitted from the map of principal long-distance raptor flyways yet features on the map of sites recording over 100 000 birds regularly and is used to illustrate loop migration. There are also factual errors. The description of the Eurasian–East African Flyway states that the number of Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis using this route in autumn is 24 000 – this is the 1980 Eilat total, but counts in Djibouti recorded 61 119 in 1985 and 76 586 in 1987 (Welch, G. & Welch, H. 1988. Sandgrouse 10: 26–50). Similarly, in the life history of Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus, the daily maximum recorded in northeastern Turkey is given as 80 000, whereas 135 000 passed through at Borçka on 28 September 1976 (Beaman, M. & Porter, R.F. 1977. Orn. Soc. Turkey Bull. 14: 2–5). There are also two errors in the life history of Osprey Pandion haliaetus. The first is the statement that Ospreys do not breed in sub-Saharan Africa. Admittedly, breeding is extremely localized compared with their non-breeding distribution, but they are a comparatively common coastal species in Djibouti and have also been recorded breeding in Eritrea and Somalia. The second is that Ospreys have been successfully reintroduced to Scotland. Recolonization of Scotland was natural and achieved by protection of the early nest-sites. The species has been successfully reintroduced to England, but this project started in 1995. There are other minor mistakes, such as transposing east for west, breeding for wintering, Steppe Buzzard for Steppe Eagle, and one gets the impression that proof reading was not as thorough in the second half of the book.

However, despite these criticisms, I would recommend this book to all raptor enthusiasts and I hope it will inspire more people to take up raptor watching either as a hobby or a profession.

Geoff Welch

Brennan, L.A. (ed.) Texas Quails: Ecology and Management. 491 pages, many maps, figures, tables and black-and-white photographs. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007. Hardback, $40.00, ISBN: 9781585445035 and 1585445037.

A huge amount of research has been carried out on the North American quails of the family Odontophoridae; extrapolating forwards from some earlier estimates, the total number of scientific publications on the Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus must now exceed 20 000. This material is difficult to collate and analyse and it is a major feat to commission and edit 25 chapters by 28 authors and coauthors citing almost 1000 papers published up to 2004. Half the authors are on the staff of Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Kingsville, The Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The vast majority of the data are from Texas, but some information from neighbouring Oklahoma and New Mexico is included. The four species found in Texas are, in order of decreasing abundance and increasing aridity of habitats, Northern Bobwhite, Scaled (or Blue) Quail Callipepla squamata, Gambel's Quail C. gambelii and Montezuma Quail Cyrtonyx montezumae.

The vastness of the range of the Northern Bobwhite and the sheer intensity of research across this range reveals astonishing variation in adaptability; apparently more phenotypic than genotypic. This variation is so marked that it is difficult to conceptualize a habitat for the species. For many decades, research was focused mainly in North Florida and South Georgia and from 1958 at Tall Timbers Research Station, where Brennan worked for some time. The results consistently showed that the best habitats were fire-maintained pinewoods, especially those dominated by the Long-leaf Pine Pinus palustris. Yet in most of Texas, where the quail is no less abundant, there are no such pines. More remarkable still, the species occurs in all ten of the eco-regions in Texas with different foods, parasites and predators in each. Nevertheless, despite this adaptability, the Northern Bobwhite has declined virtually throughout its vast range with the exception of well-managed (and well-known) estates in the vicinity of Tallahassee and a possible further exception in the general area of the Oklahoma panhandle. Many farmland birds have shown similar trends – a tremendous challenge to conservation closely paralleled in Europe.

Quail numbers have been monitored since 1978 in the various regions of Texas using two methods: the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Roadside Surveys. The results agree at State level but the Parks Surveys were found more accurate at a regional scale. Bobwhite in the South Texas Plains showed population cycles with an apparent periodicity of about 6 years and there were some not very convincing indications of this in the Rolling Plains of North-Central Texas. Whether this has anything to do with parasitism is not known.

In an outstanding contribution, Markus Peterson sets out what is known about the many parasites and diseases of quail. Interestingly, he finds that caecal parasites are abundant, but the species depends on the locality. Subulura brumpti derived from grasshoppers is dominant in the Rolling Plains, whereas Aulonocephalus lindquisti, whose life cycle is unknown, is found in the South Texas Plains. In contrast, in Georgia and Florida, the caecal nematode is normally a third species, Trichostrongylus tenuis, which has no secondary host. There is much more to learn about parasites in the book and, for the theorist, there are many salutary lessons in their complexity.

Even more important are the results about predators – a revived and rapidly evolving sector of research. Over recent years, several studies have used infrared video imaging and, for the first time, inventories of the actual predators responsible for the loss of eggs or incubating females are emerging, replacing the all-too-often incorrect suppositions of past enquirers. Like predation, hunting (shooting) is now, in a change from the past, regarded as largely non-compensatory mortality.

This is a book that should be available to any serious gamebird researcher and it will save much time searching a dispersed literature. However, it has not yet been possible, despite all the research, to put together a mathematical model that encompasses the major factors controlling equilibrium population densities in any one area. Many results show effects of weather-related fluctuations from equilibrium levels, but there is too little about the density-dependent processes, key-factor type analyses or simulation modelling. This is the next step, but Brennan's book reveals eloquently time and again that progress can only be made if those who manage quail in the field, often very successfully, and those who write papers about quail, begin to work more closely.

In the penultimate chapter, Fred Guthery and Brennan address many fundamental issues. For example, dealing with the density-dependent processes mentioned above, they conclude that they operate in different seasons and on different parts of the life cycle in different areas and are stronger in northern than southern latitudes. Undaunted, they then go on to show why this should not dampen the expectations of managers. Finally, Brennan looks into his glass ball and finds an uncertain future inextricably linked to agriculture and resting ultimately on adoption of stewardship management.

This is a useful book and, thanks to the support of generous benefactors, amazing value for money.

G. R. (Dick) Potts

Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D. (eds) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. 798 pages, 55 colour plates, 343 colour photographs, 733 distribution maps. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 2006. Hardback, £138.00, ISBN 849655306X and 9788496553064.

The 11th volume (out of 16 planned) of this major work covers an impressive 724 species in the following families: Muscicapidae (Old World flycatchers: 116 species), Platysteiridae (batises and wattle-eyes: 30), Rhipiduridae (fantails: 44), Monarchidae (monarch-flycatchers: 97), Regulidae (kinglets and firecrests: 6), Polioptilidae (gnatcatchers: 17), Cisticolidae (cisticolas and allies: 144), and Sylviidae (Old World warblers: 270). For the most part, the Editors of these volumes are, very sensibly, following a fairly conventional order of families. However, the current state of understanding of relationships both within and between families means that one can hardly hope to produce a definitive list of families and their constituent parts. It is, for example, difficult to know how to handle a situation where there are two fairly distinct groups except for a few species, which fall intermediate between the two. One option is to keep the two groups as families, knowing full well that some species lie very close to the dividing line. The alternative is to say that it is wiser to encompass the whole lot within a single, large family, such as the Fringillidae (close to 1000 species) created by Sibley and Monroe (1990).

This same problem is immediately apparent in this volume. Sibley and Monroe created two large families: Muscicapidae (449 species) and Sylviidae (552). The Editors of these volumes have – in my view wisely – taken the other route, going for smaller families and discussing the problem species in each case. The Sylviidae, here reduced to 270 species, will almost certainly undergo many transformations before there is a consensus – some of the species may be more closely related to the bulbuls (Pycnonotidae) or the babblers (Timaliidae), themselves fairly ragged families. Indeed, the type genus of the family, Sylvia, seems to be more closely related to the babblers than it is to other warblers. Although the groupings are not likely to be the final ones, Sylviidae as here defined comprises four subfamilies: Megalurinae, Acrocephalinae, Phylloscopinae and Sylviinae. One of the large groups split off is the Cisticolidae, containing the 49 species of Cisticola, but also around a hundred others, including the Madagascan Neomixis, the tailorbirds (Artisornis and Orthotomus), Apalis, Prinia and a number of smaller genera, some of less certain affinities.

There is currently no solution to these complex issues, but the Editors have done a good job in keeping HBW up to date and in making clear the reasons for their decisions. One other problem that arises in these large groups of passerines is that potentially related groups may fall into different volumes, so that it may not be immediately clear to researchers in which volume they will find all the birds for which they are searching. The global index for the series on the HBW website is useful in this regard. A plastic-coated single sheet supplied for the non-passerine volumes, which I use all the time, makes it easy to locate which volume contains which groups of birds, and I hope a second will be produced for the passerines.

All the families covered by this volume are from the Old World with the exception of the exclusively New World gnatcatchers (Polioptilidae: 17 species). This may not be the result of some invasion of the New World from one of the other families covered here as determining the closest relatives of the gnatcatchers is far from resolved. Indeed, one possibility is that they are a sister group of the indisputably New World wrens (Troglodytidae). Nor is it entirely clear that the birds included here in the Polioptilidae are all close relatives; the extraordinarily long-billed Microbates (two species) and Rhamphocaenus (one species) may not be so.

Problematic systematics apart, the book deals with the species covered in its standard and well-tried format. There are detailed introductions to each family, including systematics, morphology, habitat, voice, habits, foods and feeding, and breeding, movements (many are long-distance migrants), relationships with humans (not a lot with the groups in this volume), status and conservation; the whole illustrated with a large array of impressive photographs. The family ‘introductions’ are impressive texts; for example, that for the Sylviidae exceeds 80 pages. Individual treatment of the species then comprises paintings of the birds, distribution maps and a text. The texts normally run 2–3 to a page (but small print on a large page!), but for species as well studied as the Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, there is a full page.

The topical essay in this volume is entitled ‘Ecological significance of bird populations’ by Çaǧan Şekercioǧlu, a 35-page thought-provoking synthesis of the importance of birds to the world's ecology and the implications of reductions in numbers. The part birds play in the environment is immense, including pollination, seed dispersal, predation (on invertebrates, terrestrial vertebrates and fish); to say nothing of the current problems associated with the spread of diseases such as avian influenza. The implications of the decline or total disappearance of some of these species on the world's environments could be far-reaching.

Finally, a bibliography of close on 7000 references completes a worthy addition to the series.

C.M. Perrins

Garfield, B. The Meinertzhagen Mystery. The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud. xiv + 353 pages, 14 black-and-white photographs. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2007. Hardback, $27.50, ISBN 9781597970419 and 1597970417.

Richard Meinertzhagen (1879–1967) was a legend in his own lifetime, the ‘Soldier, Scientist, Spy’ of Mark Cocker's 1989 book title (for review, see Ibis 132: 133–134). The years since his death have seen the legend begin to crumble. Now Brian Garfield, relying mostly on written sources, mercilessly dissects the residue of Meinertzhagen's reputation as a man of action and a significant influence on world affairs, and concludes that nearly all was bluff, bluster and charade. The legend is shredded, the corpse minced, the reputation annihilated by Garfield, the author of Death Wish.

Consider a few examples. In 1916, Meinertzhagen waxed lyrical about a military reconnaissance flight he made to 17 000 feet on the snowy flanks of Mount Kilimanjaro, at a time when any aircraft would have struggled to ascend much above 10 000 feet. Two years later he was purportedly involved in an attempt to rescue the Romanovs from Russia, using a single-engined De Havilland biplane with two seats, one for the pilot, one for a Romanov. Which Romanov? Garfield is withering. Some 20 years later, three months before the outbreak of World War II, Meinertzhagen's diary records a meeting with Hitler in the Berlin Chancellery when Meinertzhagen had a pistol in his pocket. ‘I had ample opportunity to kill both Hitler and Ribbentrop and am seriously troubled by it.’ He shouldn't have been for, during the day in question, Hitler was safely in Bavaria, not Berlin.

So Garfield, more the fascinated voyeur than the harsh inquisitor, finds a pattern. Whenever Meinertzhagen's account of his escapades can be evaluated against independent documentation, it is likely to be found wanting, and often is downright fantasy. Inevitably, it becomes difficult to accept as true anything Meinertzhagen reports in the absence of corroboration.

Exactly this scepticism now attaches to all Meinertzhagen's ornithological ‘work’ so ably exposed by Alan Knox, Pam Rasmussen, Robert Prys-Jones and Nigel Collar. The book adds little to the tale of ornithological deception, but it did lead me to ponder that there is perhaps an important difference between history and science. In the former, events unfold and that is true whether we know who or what caused them to unfold. Regardless of whether Meintertzhagen might have shot Hitler, World War II indisputably happened. In contrast, science is so much more a house of cards. Take away one card, and all the house may tumble. Far better that the weak card had never been added in the first place. As Nigel Collar of BirdLife International has said, ‘The damage the man did to the [Natural History Museum] ornithological collection is not easily pardoned.’

What prompted Meinertzhagen to behave as he did? While Garfield reckons he exploited our willingness to accept a good story over prosaic truth, I suspect Meinertzhagen was somebody who believed, or came very close to believing, his own lies. If he murdered his second wife – and the evidence is inconclusive – he could have convinced himself her death was the result of a firearms accident. If he suffered from malignant narcissistic personality disorder, that is a name which explains little. Perhaps those still alive who knew the man have their pet theories. What a shame Garfield did not put more effort into winkling out these people and incorporating their impressions of Meinertzhagen. Too many such memories will die with their owners. More than ever, this readable biography made me wish I could have met Meinertzhagen in his cantankerous prime and stored my own memories.

M. de L. Brooke

Greenberg, R., Maldonado, J.E., Droege, S. & McDonald, M.V. (eds) Terrestrial Vertebrates of Tidal Marshes: Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation. (Studies in Avian Biology no. 32.) 339 pages, 5 black-and-white drawings, numerous maps, figures and tables. Ephrata, PA: Cooper Ornithological Society, 2006. Paperback, $24.00 from Cooper Ornithological Society, c/o Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, 439 Calle San Pablo, Camarillo, CA 93010, USA, ISBN 0943610702.

Throughout most of the world, saltmarshes are regarded as one of many open, grassy habitats occupied by a few generalist vertebrate species. The fact that they contain a unique suite of environmental characteristics is thus easily overlooked. This interesting book on saltmarsh vertebrates remedies the situation. It is based on papers given at a symposium at the Patuxent National Wildlife Research Centre in Maryland in 2002. Over half of it deals solely with birds, including topics such as marsh flooding, osmoregulation, feeding and breeding biology. Most of the rest is on saltmarsh vertebrates in general, but it too includes plenty of information on birds. There is also good coverage of threats to saltmarsh habitats from reclamation, habitat fragmentation and rising sea-levels.

The book is almost entirely concerned with North American saltmarshes, focusing mainly on those of the San Francisco area. It manages to avoid being parochial by virtue of some good general introductory chapters, and because North America is the world's hot spot of saltmarsh endemism, as pointed out in a chapter that reviews tidal marsh vertebrates worldwide. Saltmarshes support five endemic species of vertebrates (Seaside Sparrow Ammodramus maritimus, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow A. caudacutus, Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse Reithrodontomys raviventris, Saltmarsh Snake Nerodia clarkia and Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin), all of them limited to North America. They also support 19 endemic subspecies (11 birds, seven mammals and one snake), just one of which occurs outside North America (the samphire subspecies of Australian Slender-billed Thornbill Acanthiza iredalei rosinae). No complete explanation is offered for this remarkable geographical and evolutionary anomaly, but it is suggested that glacial refugia along the Gulf Coast probably prevented the extinction of taxa that diverged at various times (based on molecular evidence) from four million (Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse) to 40 000 (saltmarsh subspecies of Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana nigrescens) years ago. Presumably, suitable refugia were not available to taxa that diverged in saltmarshes outside North America, or they failed to diverge or survive for other reasons.

The dorsal melanism, which is apparently widespread amongst saltmarsh vertebrates (including birds), is discussed. This may be an adaptation that enhances crypsis against the darker background colour of the anoxic muds, which form the substratum in both open and vegetated areas.

Industry is often situated close to river mouths, and saltmarshes can sometimes be pollution hotspots. The Clapper Rail or Marsh Hen Rallus longirostris is proposed as an indicator species for monitoring environmental contaminants by means of eggshell thinning and DNA strand breakage. The worrying calculation is made that a hypothetical person from Brunswick, Georgia, eating 180 locally caught Clapper Rails a year for 30 years would increase their risk of PCB-induced cancer more than a thousand-fold.

Peter Ferns

Gyllin, R. Bulgariska, Svenska och Engelska Fågelnamn. 183 pages. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala Universitet, 2006. Paperback, SEK120.00, ISBN 9150618563.

This is number 11 in a Swedish series of Slavonic vocabularies (Slaviska specialordlister) covering technical and scientific subjects. It lists the standard Bulgarian, Swedish, English and scientific names of the 468 bird species that have been recorded in Bulgaria and/or Sweden. Alternative names (including those in use in North America) are also given.

An introduction discusses the criteria by which names were selected as being the ‘standard’. The present work draws Bulgarian names from six different sources, but which of them could be considered to be the ‘standard’ is a matter of debate. Evidently, there has never been an ‘official’ checklist, let alone a list of the ‘official’ names, of Bulgarian birds, and for some species not yet recorded in Bulgaria (but recorded in Sweden) there appears to be no Bulgarian name at all.

It may surprise some readers that the author has chosen to adopt the English vernacular names used in Collins Bird Guide (Mullarney et al. 1999), i.e. with frequent use of such prefixed epithets as ‘Common’, ‘Eurasian’, etc., in parentheses. In that guide, incidentally, Lars Svensson based his English names largely on Mark Beaman's 1994 checklist of Palearctic birds. Moreover, Roger Gyllin has used lower-case initial letters for English names, arguing – rather unconvincingly, in my view – that this is the prevailing style in non-scientific texts and is sometimes found also in scientific literature of a more general biological nature. American names follow David Sibley (2000, The Sibley Guide to Birds), where we find such anomalous situations as Actitis hypoleucos being referred to as the ‘Common’ Sandpiper in a region where that vagrant is vastly outnumbered by the Spotted Sandpiper A. macularia.

A four-page subsection ‘Note to English-speaking users’ is a précis of the 18 or so pages of the preceding Swedish introduction.

The bird names are then presented, alphabetically, in four lists. The first is in the sequence Swedish–scientific–Bulgarian–English; the second Bulgarian–scientific–Swedish–English; the third English–scientific–Bulgarian–Swedish; and the fourth scientific–Bulgarian–English–Swedish. These lists are followed by a total of 88 notes (all in Swedish) explaining or commenting on various names in the lists, and a short bibliography of 80 relevant publications.

Obviously, this is essentially a reference work, and one of limited use. Nevertheless, anybody with a genuine interest in Bulgarian birds, and particularly those with a working knowledge of the Bulgarian language, would certainly find it well worth having. It could also find a place on the shelves of those, a not inconsiderable number, who are interested in the vernacular names of birds.

David A. Christie

Hardey, J., Crick, H., Wernham, C., Riley, H., Etheridge, B. & Thompson, D. Raptors: A Field Guide to Survey and Monitoring. xii + 300 pages, 42 figures, numerous other line-drawings and many tables, CD with calls of 24 species. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office, 2006. Hardback, £14.99, ISBN 0114973210.

It is now late May and raptor researchers will be closely following the fate of nests in their study plots, trying to confirm the status of a few territories where they suspect breeding, collecting ‘pluckings’ and moulted feathers to assess diet and identify resident breeders, and, eventually, clambering up trees or cliffs to measure and mark the young of successful broods.

Many raptor species are difficult to study, because of their secretive lifestyles and their remote nesting and hunting locations. It can take hundreds of field-hours to collect quantitative data for a single local population in a given year. Nevertheless, thanks to the dedication of countless individual enthusiasts and some organized raptor-study groups, substantial data sets for some species have accumulated over the years, and it is now possible to compare aspects of raptor ecology across large temporal (decades) and spatial (countries or even continents) scales, which provides exciting opportunities for basic and applied research. For such analyses, it is of paramount importance that hard-won field data on population levels and demographic parameters are strictly comparable, between years and also across different study sites. The book by Jon Hardey and coauthors serves this cause by providing an excellent introduction to field techniques for raptor research.

The manual comprises two main parts. Part 1 (60 pages) is divided into seven main sections and provides a brief historical account of raptor monitoring in Britain and Ireland, followed by essential information on all aspects of raptor fieldwork, including: a description of field methods used for surveying and monitoring raptor populations; advice on general fieldcraft (e.g. note-taking, sexing and ageing of nestlings, legal considerations); a brief discussion of additional techniques (e.g. ringing, radiotracking, genetic profiling); and guidelines for interpreting signs and behaviour of raptors. The authors’ attention to precise terminology makes this a reliable, authoritative introduction to the field, which will improve data quality and benefit the unambiguous exchange of information among researchers.

Part 2 of the book presents detailed accounts for the 22 raptor and owl species, including Common Raven Corvus corax, that breed regularly in Britain and Ireland. Following a consistent format, the authors provide for each species a brief general introduction, followed by more detailed information on survey techniques. The reader learns how to search habitat for potential nest-sites of a particular species; how to ‘read’ the signs that indicate that a territory is occupied; how to collect evidence that breeding has taken place, and young have fledged; and finally, how to age and sex nestlings if they are handled for ringing. I particularly liked the fact that the accounts give guidance on the timing of nest visits in order to increase fieldwork efficiency and reduce disturbance. The accounts are packed with invaluable information, much of it unpublished or scattered throughout the technical literature. It was a major achievement by the authors, and their expert advisers (who helped with individual species accounts), to collate all this material in such a concise and accessible format. Newcomers to the field of raptor research are guided around many potential pitfalls, and the authors’ exposure of gaps in our current knowledge will encourage experienced workers to publish existing data sets, and to start collecting missing information.

The three appendices provide, respectively, a review of the status and trends of raptor populations in Britain and Ireland; useful contact details for a variety of groups and organizations with interests in raptor research in Britain and Ireland; and a selection of data recording forms that can be used (or modified) for other projects. A major asset is a CD with characteristic calls from 24 species (Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus and Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo, in addition to the 22 regular breeders). Overall, I find the balance between breadth and detail superb, and I have only one minor suggestion for future editions. I think it would be useful to have – illustrated with a few photographs – a more detailed introduction to the now well-established technique of using moulted raptor feathers for sexing, ageing and identifying individuals. The use of feathers is cheap, reliable and highly efficient, and it offers much scope for gaining detailed insights into raptor life histories and population structure. Fieldworkers should know how to use this powerful technique, and make an effort to collect feathers wherever they are available (under appropriate licences, of course).

This excellent manual will facilitate the standardization of research techniques and ensure that the collection of data for ongoing and new projects meets the highest possible standards – not just in Britain and Ireland, but across Europe, where the subject matter is equally relevant. It will be, together with Rob Bijlsma's Handleiding Veldonderzoek Roofvogels ([Field Research Manual for Raptor Studies] Utrecht: KNNV Uitgeverij, 1997: see Ibis 140: 353), the definitive reference for years to come, both for specialists and for beginners. Although this book cannot replace the help and guidance of an experienced mentor, who shares first-hand knowledge during joint field trips, it will provide a solid theoretical foundation, and invaluable pointers to the literature. Perhaps most importantly, it should motivate a new generation of raptor fieldworkers, who, inspired by others, will strive to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge of raptor ecology.

Christian Rutz

Higgins, P.J., Peter, J.M. & Cowling, S.J. (eds) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds. Volume 7: Boatbill to Starlings. 1984 pages, 54 colour plates, numerous maps, graphs, and other line-drawings. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2006. Hardback, £245.00, ISBN 0195539966 and 9780195539967.

With the publication of volume 7 of HANZAB, this monumental landmark series is complete. Broadly modelled on The Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP), the series covers all 957 species that occur in Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica. Volume 7 concludes the treatment of the passerines and describes 169 species in 27 families. The volume is split into two parts: Part A covering the Dicruridae to Alaudidae (75 species), and Part B Prunellidae to Sturnidae (94 species). Coverage includes all native, introduced and vagrant species.

The format of Volume 7 closely follows earlier volumes. A short overview introducing each family precedes the individual species accounts, which comprise subsections on identification, habitat, distribution and populations, threats and human interactions, movements, food, social organization, social behaviour, voice, breeding, plumages, bare parts, moults, measurements, weights, structure, ageing, and geographical variation. Colour plates depict adult, juvenile and immature plumages, as well as some subspecific variation.

As might be expected, some species are better studied than others, so that the length of accounts varies. For example, the well-studied Silvereye Zosterops lateralis is allocated 47 pages, whereas everything that is known about the two Zosterops species on Norfolk Island fits into just seven pages. Compared with the well-studied European avifauna, it is striking how little is known about most species in this region. Many sections begin with the statement ‘not well known’ or ‘poorly known’. Even basic breeding biology, such as the length of the incubation or nestling period, has yet to be recorded for many species. For example, among the highly conspicuous monarchs Monarcha and fantails Rhipidura, the incubation period is known for only six out of 19 species, and these estimates are based on just a few nests. This is not a flaw, but simply reflects how much there is to learn about the birds of this region – surely one part of the developed world where amateur ornithologists can still readily contribute to a basic understanding of their birds, and I hope this series will encourage both professional and amateur to help fill in the gaps.

In such a massive undertaking, a few errors are bound to escape notice. Readers looking for Plate 52 will not find it and instead come across Plate 51 twice. To add to the confusion, the second Plate 51 does not portray the three species of Turdus thrushes indicated in the caption, but rather paintings are presented of two flycatchers (Ficedula narcissina and Cyanoptila cyanomelana) and a wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina). The confusion is resolved when the reader examines Plate 53, which has the caption for the flycatchers and wheatear, but the paintings for the thrushes. There may be a sprinkling of other small errors elsewhere in the text, but I could not find any worth reporting in the accounts I read from start to finish.

The 54 colour plates in Volume 7 were painted by six artists (Peter Marsack, Nicolas Day, Kim Franklin, Peter Slater, James Luck and Derek Onley), and are all of excellent quality and comparable style. Curiously, it is not clear why some vagrants are illustrated in great detail (e.g. six paintings of the Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus), but then no plates are provided for extinct species such as the Long-tailed Triller Lalage leucopyga from Norfolk Island, or the Huia Heteralocha acutirostris from New Zealand. The decision to exclude plates for extinct species was not applied uniformly throughout the volume as indicated by the inclusion of two paintings of the Piopio Turnagra capensis. Readers wanting illustrations for most extinct species are thus required to look elsewhere.

Despite these small shortcomings, there is no doubt this volume (and series) is a major achievement of which the editors, illustrators and numerous contributors can be proud. This is the best reference for the amazing birds of the HANZAB region and sets a high standard for similar handbooks around the world. One can only wonder where next? As with other handbooks, the information in this series will soon become outdated. An attempt was made to keep BWP accounts current by publishing updates in a dedicated journal (BWP-Update– now discontinued and superseded by the DVD-ROM BWPi), while The Birds of North America series has gone online and is commissioning revised species accounts. The attraction of the latter is the ability, not possible with hard-copy publishing, to download videos and recordings. On the other hand, a computer screen does not entirely replace the pleasure of paging through a hefty book, wondering how one can travel to this part of the world and personally fill in some of those gaps for the next edition! Whatever the future brings for revised editions, this series is a must for all libraries and an essential reference for anyone with an interest in the birds down under.

James V. Briskie

Latta, S., Rimmer, C., Keith, A., Wiley, J., Raffaele, H., McFarland, K., & Fernandez, E. Birds of the Dominican Republic & Haiti. (Helm Field Guides.) 258 pages, 57 colour plates, 4 black-and-white figures (2 maps) and numerous small monochrome distribution maps. London: Christopher Helm, 2006. Paperback, £24.99, ISBN 0713679050 and 9780713679052. Website:

A number of the authors of the Birds of the West Indies identification guide (1998; reviewed in Ibis 141: 160–161) have used some of that material along with information from the BOU annotated checklist of the birds of this island (2003; see Ibis 147: 854–855), and have teamed up with local ornithologists to produce a new guide to the birds of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). The book starts with introductory sections on the topography and habitats of Hispaniola, a list of the 31 endemic species (plus subspecies), a summary of conservation issues with a list of protected areas and threatened/endangered species, and a brief ornithological history. There follow 57 colour plates depicting the approximately 300 species recorded on the island, with key identification features alongside. The next 200 pages provide more detailed species accounts, which include a description, similar species, voice, local distribution (with a map), habitat and seasonal occurrence, overall status, general comments (e.g. diet), range, and local names. Finally, two appendices describe the major birdwatching sites in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and provide a species checklist; there is also a select bibliography.

As with other books from the region by one or more of these authors, this is of a high standard and will undoubtedly prove an invaluable field guide for residents and visitors to two countries that are increasingly being ‘discovered’ by ornithologists from abroad. I particularly liked the whole-page colour plates (of Hispaniolan endemics and others), but the other illustrations are also generally good. The text is up to date, concise and to the point, with accurate descriptions of each species as well as useful additional information on status, distribution and ecology. Perhaps some of the distribution maps (e.g. for shorebirds and seabirds) could have highlighted the main areas of occurrence rather than simply marking the entire coast, and for the very localized species, whose range is depicted by dots, it would have helped the reader if the dots had been numbered and cross-referenced in the text. However, these are minor quibbles about an otherwise excellent guide that anyone interested in the birds of Hispaniola should have.

Peter G.H. Evans

Milne, P. Where to Watch Birds in World Cities. 496 pages, numerous maps and line-drawings. London: Christopher Helm, 2006. Paperback, £16.99, ISBN 0713669837 and 9780713669831. Website:

Kelcey, J.G. & Rheinwald, G. (eds) Birds in European Cities. 450 pages, 48 black-and-white photographs, 30 maps, 30 tables, 16 graphs. St. Katharinen, Germany: Ginster Verlag, 2005. Hardback, B29.50, ISBN 3980681726. Contact: Dr G. Rheinwald, Ginster Verlag, Schönblick 10, D-53562 St. Katharinen, Germany; email:

These two books both cover birds in cities, but other than that could hardly be more different. Paul Milne's addition to the well-established Helm ‘Where to Watch’ series is aimed at the time-limited visitor to one of 61 major cities worldwide, who would like to fit in some productive birding without travelling more than 80 km from the city centre (though this rule is broken in several places). The cities are arranged alphabetically and by continent (six in Africa, 15 in Asia, three in Australia, 20 in Europe, 12 in North America, five in South America), each with an overview of the typical birds, a map and basic transport details. For each city, up to 14 locations for birding are detailed, with access details, a table of key species, plus a list of useful contacts, websites and further reading. The introductory chapters to the book as a whole provide tips on the most productive urban habitats, security issues and using local expertise. I would imagine that someone on a city break who could spare at least one day to go birding nearby would find this book the most useful, but the business traveller with a few hours to spend might wish for more emphasis on sites closer to the city centre. Nevertheless, the information looks well researched, certainly for the areas I have visited, and on balance it is a useful addition to one's armoury of site guides.

For Birds in European Cities, scientists from 16 cities across Europe (Berlin, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Florence, Hamburg, Lisbon, Lublin, Moscow, Prague, Rome, Sofia, St. Petersburg, València, Vienna and Warsaw) describe the history and current status of their local avifaunas. The emphasis is obviously on Eastern Europe – the editors would like more from other parts in a future edition – but there is no shortage of material here to stimulate anyone with an interest in urban ornithology. Each chapter is structured similarly for ease of comparison, starting with a summary of the historical development of the city, its ecosystems and avifauna, followed by accounts of the bird populations of the different habitats that currently exist. Although breeding birds are the main focus, there are also sections on wintering species and migrants. Alien species (e.g. parakeets, wildfowl) feature significantly in many places, and that ultimate urban bird, the Feral Pigeon Columba livia, is also dealt with prominently. Each chapter has a short ‘Where to watch’ section focusing on sites within the city boundaries, plus appendices tabulating status by species. Most chapters include further reading and/or references. There is an eclectic mix of anecdotes that do not fit under any other formal heading, providing a more rounded picture than one often obtains from such scientific compilations. Several are quite amusing (e.g. the return of breeding Red-breasted Flycatchers Ficedula parva to Warsaw, having previously been ‘studied to extinction’). The book ends with an overview by the Editors, and a table of breeding species by city. The translated English is idiosyncratic in places, but never confusingly so, although it might have been better to have tabulated species taxonomically by family rather than by English first name. Make no mistake, however, this impressive compilation is essential reading for anyone interested in the dynamics of urban bird populations, and both Editors deserve praise for their efforts, Götz Rheinwald in particular for investing so much in its production and for bringing it out at a modest price in his own small publishing house.

Ken Hall

Mindlin, G.B. & Laje, R. The Physics of Birdsong. 157 pages, 66 figures. Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2006. Hardback, B59.95, £46.00, ISBN 3540253998 and 9783540253990, ISSN 1618–7210.

Studies of birdsong have enhanced our understanding of many natural phenomena, from brain function and learning mechanisms, to the evolution of language and speciation. Testimony to the importance of birdsong in science is the number of books and edited volumes dedicated to the subject. However, while most recent publications focus on the evolutionary significance of birdsong, this latest addition to the literature examines in detail the underlying physics.

Gabriel Mindlin and Rodrigo Laje's new book is a compact and relatively accessible account of the biomechanics and neurophysiology of birdsong. Concentrating on the complex, learned songs of the oscine passerines (songbirds), these established physicists skilfully move from the basic physics of the songs themselves, via the sophisticated vocal apparatus that generates them (the syrinx), to the complex neural pathways in the brain that stimulate the syrinx.

The first of two scene-setting chapters provides a crisp description of the physics of sound waves and the second clearly explains acoustic sources and filters. Homage is then paid to the sophistication of the avian syrinx: its structure and musculature, how the musculature generates oscillations, and how oscillations generate the periodic fluctuations in airflow responsible for sound. Anatomically relatively simple, the syrinx is described as a highly non-linear physical system able to translate simple instructions from the brain into the spectrally rich and rhythmic songs we hear. In the fourth chapter, Mindlin and Laje present models of how birds co-ordinate signals passing through the thousands of neurons and scores of syringeal and respiratory muscles used to produce song. Having outlined the basic structure of oscine song, they go on, in the fifth chapter, to explain how song syllables are constructed and how changing vibrations in the syrinx result in shifts in a syllable's fundamental frequency. The authors then elaborate on the subtle ways in which the syrinx can, in some species, produce highly complex sounds. An understanding of the physics of birdsong should enable us to synthesize songs, and the seventh chapter defines the mathematics involved in this process. The penultimate chapter describes the neuronal pathways required to generate birdsong (motor pathway), and those required to learn it (anterior forebrain pathway), and the ninth and final chapter goes into the physics of complex rhythms.

This book is only the second dedicated to the physics of birdsong. The first, Birdsong: Acoustics and Physiology by Crawford Greenewalt, was published nearly 40 years ago (for a ‘Special review’, see Ibis 111: 629–631). Given the many advances made in the field since then, Mindlin and Laje's book is an important read for those wishing to be brought up to date on the mechanisms behind this complex behavioural trait. Although most of the physics and neurophysiology described can be found scattered through various other publications, it is extremely useful to find all the information in one volume. However, contrary to the claim made on the back cover, this is not a text for the general reader. In fact, a substantial proportion of each chapter consists of equations. Despite the authors’ verbal explanations, some grounding in advanced mathematics is necessary to appreciate the scope and depth of this book fully. Although the prevalence of mathematics might deter some birdsong biologists, persistence will be rewarded with a sound understanding of bird phonetics. The Physics of Birdsong is likely to remain essential reading for professional birdsong scientists for many years to come.

Nathalie Seddon

Paulson, D. Shorebirds of North America. The Photographic Guide. 361 pages, 534 colour photographs, 4 figures, 3 tables. London: Christopher Helm, 2005. Paperback, £24.99, ISBN 071367377X.

OBrien, M., Crossley, R. & Karlson, K. The Shorebird Guide. xiv + 477 pages, over 870 colour photographs, 48 distribution maps. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Paperback, $24.95, ISBN 0618432949 and 9780618432943.

It is encouraging to see increasing attention being paid to watching and identifying shorebirds (waders), given how many species and populations are in serious decline worldwide. Photographic guides focusing on the challenging art of field identification of these birds have proliferated, and the two books reviewed here are both aimed primarily at the North American market.

Shorebirds of North America covers 94 species of waders recorded in North and Central America, including rare vagrants such as Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii and Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola, which have been recorded only once, and the probably extinct Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis. Following short introductory sections covering anatomy, plumage variation (including of probable hybrids), moult, identification, behaviour, vocalizations, distribution and conservation, the bulk of the book comprises species accounts in systematic order.

Each one- to two-page species text includes sections on size, plumages, subspecies, identification on the ground and in flight, including comparisons with similar species, voice, behaviour, habitat and range. No distribution maps are included. The author explains that this is partly to leave more space to text and photographs, and partly because most other field guides already have such maps, which can be used in conjunction with this one. So, must we take at least two guides into the field?

The central feature of Shorebirds of North America is high-quality photographs, two or three to a page, printed on high-quality paper and with good explanatory captions. Most are the traditional profile images of a single bird on the ground, each showing different ages/plumage, but also, for many species, other poses (roosting, stretching and flying). For a few species, a photograph of stretched museum wing specimens illustrates differences between two or three similar species, but I felt that these would not greatly help field identification, being more useful for a bird in the hand. A few photographs show similar species together, either on the ground or in flight, for example breeding Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca and T. flavipes. These are particularly helpful in field identification and more such comparisons would have been a bonus.

Even more lavishly illustrated (and larger and heavier at about 1.2 kg) is The Shorebird Guide, covering 92 North American species (Eskimo Curlew and Collared Pratincole are omitted). The Shorebird Guide has even more different pose and plumage photographs for each species, like Paulson printed on high-quality paper. The images, many outstanding, show a range of plumages, postures and behaviour for each species, including for almost all species a flight image; pages for some species cover subspecies identification; and numerous ‘comparison’ images show two or more species, these last being particularly valuable.

Following introductory texts about different aspects of shorebirds and how to use the guide, the first of the two main sections is largely photographs with explanatory captions pointing out key identification features, and a distribution map and brief text. Irritatingly, there are two systematic order subsections here, the first covering ‘domestic’ species (i.e. those regularly occurring in North America) and a second for ‘rarities and regional specialities’. So, if you are struggling to identify a small sandpiper and you are lucky (or in the case of this book, unlucky) enough to be watching a rarity for North America, you have to flick backwards and forwards between two blocks of the photographic pages to check on all possible species. The photographic section also contains a number of ‘identification quizzes’ based on the photographs and designed to test your identification skills, with answers at the back of the book.

The second main section has more detailed texts for each species, covering status, taxonomy, behaviour, migration, moult and vocalizations. Unlike the first, this section is in a single systematic sequence for all species covered, whether common or rare. Page references to these species’ accounts are given on the relevant photo-page and in the index, but not in the contents list.

An extravagant claim that The Shorebird Guide is a ‘revolutionary approach to bird identification’ turns out to be little more than an explanation of the importance of ‘jizz’, which is barely a revelation, still less a revolution. Furthermore, vital aspects of shorebirds’‘jizz’, and often amongst the first clues to identification, are their movements and calls. So perhaps the next edition will also include a CD of video clips and calls: combined with an MP3 player alongside your telescope, this might then get closer to the book's back-cover claim to be ‘an all-new, holistic approach to identifying shorebirds’.

Despite such limitations, both books are excellently produced and are valuable additions to the toolkit for shorebird identification, especially for helping to confirm field identifications once back indoors. Both provide more comprehensive coverage than earlier photographic guides, but would either be my guide of choice to take into the field? No. Both, especially The Shorebird Guide, are larger and heavier than ‘traditional’ field guides using artist's colour plates – for example, that by Message and Taylor (2005; reviewed in Ibis 148: 835–836) covers 30 more species, can be used throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and has the advantage of allowing comparison of several similar species on one colour plate. And which to recommend? Given the different way each guide is organized, this will be a personal choice; but for me, The Shorebird Guide, with its even greater range of useful images for each species, just wins by a short beak.

Nick Davidson

Pearson, D.L. & Beletsky, L. Brazil: Amazon and Pantanal. (Travellers’ Wildlife Guides.) 492 pages, 9 + 102 colour plates, 20 colour photographs, maps. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2005. Paperback, $27.95, ISBN 1566565936 and 9781566565936.

This is one of a useful series of guides (see, for example, Ibis 149: 427–428), which looks beyond the usual tourist guide to explore issues of sustainability and ecotourism in tropical regions. The introductory chapters discuss ecotourism, geography and habitats, parks and reserves, environmental threats and conservation. After a chapter on how to use the guide, those following concentrate on one section of the area's biota. About 70 pages are devoted to birds, with a brief introduction followed by sections on the different components of the avifauna. Each of these is in turn subdivided into sections on natural history, breeding, notes and status, with a list giving the species illustrated. The bird plates are found in the plates section towards the end of the book, are well executed and give a flavour of the species to be expected in each area covered (e.g. southern Amazon and the vast Pantanal wetland), but they are by no means comprehensive, so would lead to misidentifications. There is a list of references and further reading towards the end, plus some habitat photos, identification plates of other animal groups, and species and general indexes. This is a well-produced book and will help ornithologists and other naturalists better understand and appreciate these wonderful tropical areas and the wildlife to be found within them.

Graeme Green

Por, F.D., Imperatriz-Fonseca, V.L. & Lencioni Neto, F. Biomes of Brazil. An Illustrated Natural History. Biomas do Brazil. Uma História Natural Ilustrada. 208 pages, many colour illustrations, graphs, maps. Sofia–Moscow: Pensoft Publishers, 2005. Hardback, B39.50, ISBN 9546422371. Website:, email:

This interesting and informative bilingual publication serves to illustrate by way of paintings and drawings (there are no photographs) the eight major terrestrial biomes of Brazil, some of which are endemic to the country, or nearly so, and one or two severely threatened. Beginning with a chapter on the Atlantic rainforest, the book then describes the domain of Araucaria (the Parana Pine A. angustifolia), the cerrado savannas, the Pantanal of Matto Grosso, mountain shrubs of campos rupestres and tepuis, the caatingas – dry forests – aspects of the Amazon and, finally, the mangrove forests. The text is printed in English sections followed by the Portuguese, which does somewhat interrupt continuity, but this is presumably caused by the book's layout, the text sections being interspersed with many small illustrations of flora and fauna. The habitat paintings (dioramas) are delightful and evocative, although an observer would be very fortunate to see all the species illustrated in the same binocular view! Biomes of Brazil is clearly concerned with a wider view than birds, but each of its chapters does contain a section on the vertebrate fauna, in which birds often feature, and I can thoroughly recommend it to those ornithologists who wish to look beyond what bird they have seen where to the why they might have seen it there.

Graeme Green

Rees, E. The Bewick's Swan. 296 pages, 21 colour photographs, line-drawings, numerous black-and-white figures and tables, 6 appendices. London: T & AD Poyser, 2006. Hardback, £40.00, ISBN:0713665599 and 9780713665598. Website:

Among many things, Sir Peter Scott was well known for discovering that Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii could be individually identified by their facial [bill] patterns. Eileen Rees began to exploit this useful trait in the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's (WWT) Slimbridge wintering population, and this very useful monograph of the fascinating, long-lived lives of Bewick's Swans in the famous Poyser series draws on her 27-year career as a biologist at WWT.

Despite their considerable size, and the relative ease with which these swans can be studied, it may come as a surprise to many that much remains unclear about their population history and status. For example, the European population apparently increased by 83% from 1987 to 1995, seemingly an impossible rate for such a strongly K-selected species, probably because very large numbers shifted their distribution from unknown wintering areas, although it seems remarkable that such large numbers could have remained undetected. And, since 1996, the western population has been declining rapidly, even though, paradoxically, it has been stable in the UK and to some extent in the Netherlands, their two main wintering areas. One concludes from the chapters on numbers and distribution therefore that more research needs to be done!

In general, these early chapters on population biology and migration contain impressive detail, but this is sometimes overwhelming and will perhaps not appeal to the general reader. For me, the chapter on food and feeding was a favourite and contained much interesting natural history. I was surprised to learn that Bewick's Swans are on occasion predators, and the North American race, the Whistling Swan Cygnus c. columbianus, is known to feed intensively on molluscs in some areas. The chapters on breeding biology, social behaviour in winter and life history are also generally appealing. Perhaps the best-known trait of the Bewick's Swan is its remarkable mate-fidelity and only one incidence of divorce has been recorded in the Slimbridge population. The author emphasizes research which shows that mate-fidelity is very important to the health of the population because breeding success increases substantially the longer pairs stay together. Although the general style in these chapters is scientific, there are lots of interesting anecdotes, including the case of a Bean Goose Anser fabalis which had apparently adopted a Bewick's Swan's family as its own, both being seen together over a 12-month period in two countries.

So what about the conservation status of the species? Rees tells us on the one hand that most of the main sites in the western population are well protected. On the other, up to three-quarters of the population moult in a single area near the Pechora Delta (northern European Russia), where major oil spills have occurred, though so far casualties have been remarkably low. Flying collisions are the main cause of death on the wintering grounds but, almost unbelievably, it was found in the 1990s that up to 39% of living swans had lead shot in their tissues, although it remains unclear what effect this has on fitness. On the positive side, despite the apparent recent decline in the European population, the population is still much healthier than in the 1960s and there is a general feeling that the future looks bright for the Bewick's Swan, at least in Europe, not least because they are surprisingly adaptive to changing habitat in winter. The possible impact of global warming on the Bewick's Swan's breeding habitat admittedly gives cause for concern. Although there are grounds for optimism then, a close eye still clearly needs to be kept on the species, especially across the breeding range and perhaps also the wintering/staging sites of the eastern population, which are less well protected.

The line-drawings by Dafila Scott are simple but atmospheric and illustrate the book nicely. The chapters lack summaries, which would have been very useful for dipping into what is a detailed monograph. The figures and photos are all very good, but there are surprisingly few tables in the appendices and the main ones simply consist of lists of numbers seen at the main sites throughout Eurasia. Also, I would have liked to read more stories and anecdotes about the swans and swan-researchers that the author has extensive experience of working with throughout the Bewick's Swan's range. These points aside, I very much enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the biology of a long-lived and somewhat charismatic species. Rees's book is indeed testament to the great international effort that has gone into studying this bird, but it also serves as another example of the difficulties biologists face when trying to understand the population biology of migratory wildfowl.

John L. Quinn

Sigrist, T. Aves do Brazil: Uma Visão Artística. Birds of Brazil: An Artistic View. 672 pages, 130 + xxvi colour plates, numerous black-and-white figures, photographs (some in colour), maps, tables, CD and booklet. São Paulo: Avis Brazilis, 2006. Hardback, R$270.00, ISBN 8590507416.Website:, email:

The canon of Brazilian ornithological publishing includes a genre of lavishly produced, often extremely large and usually richly illustrated tomes from such luminaries as Oliverio Pinto, Augusto Ruschi and Helmut Sick. The current book by Tomas Sigrist, who has been painting birds in Brazil since 1986, can now be added to this genre. The book is bilingual, the Portuguese and English text being arranged in two columns on each page, thereby enhancing its appeal outside Brazilian borders. For the book to be truly representative of the broader Neotropics, a Spanish text would have helped, although I can understand the potential difficulties involved in publishing a trilingual publication to this standard. There is a brief introduction and plan of the book, which is helpful for finding one's way around the text. The main chapters are then as follows: ‘Birds in the landscape, an artistic view’; ‘The life of birds, their morphology and behaviour’; ‘Brazilian birds, an iconography’ (actually the species plates with maps on the facing pages); ‘Families and species’ (roughly, the somewhat abbreviated text to the plates) and, finally, ‘Birdwatching, methods and equipment’. To complete the text, there are 342 citations in the Bibliography and indexes to scientific, Portuguese and English names, followed by a list of colour plates.

The text is illustrated with several pages of photographs of various habitat types, always useful for setting the scene, and for some readers an introduction to unique Brazilian habitats such as caatinga (literally, ‘white’ or clear forest, but embracing several different subcategories of dry forest, scrubland, etc.). Apart from the 130 plates for identification, several full-page paintings, interspersed throughout the text, depict such species as Crowned Eagle Harpyhaliaetus coronatus, Black-girdled Barbet Capito dayi, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow Pyroderus scutatus and Saffron Toucanet Baillonius bailloni, alternatively known as the wonderful ‘Aracari banana’. An abundance of line-drawings is used to illustrate certain points within the text: for example, the mobbing of Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Glaucidium brasilianum by small passerines and foraging techniques within a mixed-species flock. A few types of vocalization are illustrated in sonagrams, and also included in the package is a CD-Rom of the voices of 59 relatively common species, with a bias towards the Atlantic Forest biome.

Now to the crunch – how good is this tome and are the quality and potential usefulness reflected in the price? First, the book is comprehensive, illustrating about 1800 species with over 3000 different plumage depictions following a Brazilian taxonomic sequence from 2005. Secondly, the quality of the illustrations is acceptable, though the full-page paintings are much more pleasing to my eye than the ‘plumage maps’ of the identification plates. On the latter, the brushwork is unsubtle with very crude feather detail, and the artist's true skill only really manifests itself in, for example, the bromeliad-laden branches on the full-page painting of three Saffron Toucanets. I am only labouring the point regarding the techniques used by the artist because of the book's subtitle as ‘an artistic view’. Thirdly, as regards the usefulness of the species plates for identification, they will do a good job for ornithologists away from the field (the book is far too bulky for use otherwise), as the colours are generally accurate, the postures of the birds are not too bad considering many have been painted from skins, and each plate strives to be a useful comparator of several closely related taxa (although it seems strange that the jays Cyanocorax spp. have been included on a large plate with several members of the Cotingidae). Many of the plates are very pleasing even to this critical eye, but they are undeniably not up to the standard of many current bird illustrators. However, I would emphasize that they are perfectly acceptable. As they represent, to my knowledge, the only complete, illustrated Brazilian avifauna currently in print, the book can be recommended for this reason alone. I am sure the complete project has been a labour of love for the author and deserves to succeed for the reasons I have outlined. The book would have been improved further with a less idiosyncratic use of English and the reason for some of the strange syntax is hard to fathom given that someone whose name suggests a native English speaker reappraised the translation.

In conclusion, Aves do Brazil is a very useful addition to an ever-expanding literature about a fascinating avifauna, to which this book does some justice. It does not represent the final word, since the text sections are just too brief and the colour plates too simplistic. But, for the present, it can be recommended and certainly deserves to be widely known and used.

Graeme Green

Turner, A. The Barn Swallow. 256 pages, 28 figures, 10 tables and 26 colour photographs. London: T & AD Poyser (A & C Black), 2006. Hardback, £40.00, ISBN 0713665580. Website:

The Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica is one of the most widely distributed bird species and, thanks to its close association with human habitat, surely one of the most familiar. The book cover adopts the new Poyser monograph style, but inside the layout is familiar, its presentation of graphics and the clear, easily readable typeface echoing the releases from the past few years. The chapter structure is also tried and tested: an introduction to the genus Hirundo followed by chapters examining various aspects of the life and behaviour of this species, including flight, feeding habits, mate-choice, breeding strategies, nest-sites, eggs and incubation, rearing of young, productivity and survival, migratory behaviour and population dynamics.

The sheer volume of research conducted on the social behaviour and flight dynamics of this species, including a long-term study in Scotland (in which the author has been involved) and the near-legendary work of Danish scientist Anders Møller, means that this book has a more behavioural slant than some of its companion volumes. However, one of the strengths of the book is its clear and unbiased synthesis of the wealth of (often technical) source material, presented in a manner that almost anyone will be able to understand. Many fascinating facts emerge from these chapters: I was unaware of how frequently Barn Swallow hybridizes with other Hirundo spp. or the changes in foraging strategies associated with different habitats, geographical locations and the weather.

No book on Swallows would be complete without a section on migration. This work covers it all: from the 18th-century observations of Gilbert White, who still believed that at least a proportion of the British population hibernated in holes or at the bottom of ponds, to the latest scientific approaches using carbon or nitrogen isotopes of feathers to determine where birds winter. Perhaps surprisingly, given the millions of birds that have been ringed and the volume of research devoted to other aspects of behaviour, many questions remain unanswered on how Swallows migrate and the routes followed by the various populations.

The book concludes with a chapter devoted to changes in populations and behaviour in relation to climatic and habitat change, the emphasis being on intensive agricultural habitat.

This is an impressive synthesis of a mass of material collected across six different continents (although with an emphasis on the Old World) and over a span of more than two centuries. Anyone who likes watching Swallows will enjoy the insights provided into the life history. For researchers of social behaviour and flight dynamics, this is an excellent overview that will serve as a first port of call.

Tony Morris

Also received

Belik, V.P. (ed.) Strepet: Ornitologiya Yuga [The Little Bustard: Ornithology of the South]. Volumes 2(1), 2(2) and 3(1–2) (in Russian, with English abstracts and captions). 152 pages (2[1]), 119 pages (2[2]), 126 pages (3[1-2]); figures, tables. Rostov-on-Don: Rostov State Pedagogical University, 2004 (Vol.2), 2005 (Vol.3).

Belik, V.P. (ed.) Strepet: Fauna, Ekologiya i Okhrana Ptits Yuzhnoy Palearktiki [The Little Bustard: Status, Ecology and Conservation of the Birds of the Southern Palearctic]. Volume 4(1). 126 pages. 2006. Other details as above, but note change in subtitle. Contact emails: Dr V.P. Belik,,

Each of these issues contains a variety of longer papers in three main categories: status, distribution and population; ecology and behaviour; conservation. There are also short communications. See Ibis 146: 543 and 147: 235 for reviews of earlier issues.


Birdguides Ltd/Cramp, S. & Simmons, K.E.L. (eds) BWPi: The Birds of the Western Palearctic on interactive DVD-ROM. Version 2.0. 1 DVD. Sheffield: BirdGuides Ltd and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. £139.00 (incl. VAT, p.&p. £1.99), available from, Tel. 0800 919391 (international: +44 1909560992), ISBN 1898110395.

Version 1.0 (2004) of BWPi was reviewed in Ibis 147: 618. An update disk appeared in 2006 and this version 2.0 integrates the update with the original. The DVD thus now incorporates new taxonomic and population data, many additional video clips, all six volumes of the (discontinued) BWP Update journal, and software giving users the facility to add their own content (photographs, etc.).


Blomdahl, A., Breife, B. & Holmström, N. Flight Identification of European Seabirds. 374 pages, over 650 colour photographs, 1 table, 1 map. London: Christopher Helm (A & C Black), 2007. Paperback, £24.99, ISBN 9780713686166.

This is a paperback reprint of the impressive field guide for land- or ship-based seawatchers, which was first published in 2003 and reviewed in Ibis 146: 365–366.


Chekin, A.V. (ed.) [Biodiversity of the State Nature Reserve ‘Rostovskiy’ and its Protection] (Trudy Gos. Prirod. Zap. Rostov. 3) (in Russian). 272 pages, many black-and-white figures and tables, 17 colour photographs on front and back covers. Rostov-on-Don: State Nature Reserve ‘Rostovskiy’, 2004. Hardback, price not known, ISBN 5876880752.

The ‘Rostovskiy’ Zapovednik [Strict Nature Reserve] was created in 1995 for the study and protection of the unique flora and fauna of Lake Manych-Gudilo and the surrounding steppelands. Among the 16 papers in this collection are two on wildfowl, while one (by V.P. Belik) describes the Non-Passeriformes of Manych-Gudilo and was thus clearly a major reference for Minoranskiy et al. (2006) reviewed below. In his discussion of rare and vulnerable vertebrates, Viktor Belik recommends providing artificial nest-sites for Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, whose down is ‘almost as good as eiderdown’.


Lowry, J.L. The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. A Natural History of the Backyard Restoration Garden. 280 pages, 20 colour plates, 6 black-and-white figures, line-drawings. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2007. Paperback, $24.95, £15.95, ISBN 9780520249561.

Drawing on her profound knowledge and experience, Judith Larner Lowry writes colourfully and with passion of growing native plants in Californian gardens to create a rich habitat for humans and wildlife. There is much wisdom here, not least from Native American culture. The avian stars, in their different ways, are California Quail Callipepla californica and that inveterate tree-planter, Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica.


Matyukhin, A.V. [Biology, Ecology and Behaviour of the Sparrows (Passer montanus, P. domesticus, P. indicus) of the Northern Palearctic](in Russian). 98 pages, 21 tables. Moscow: A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, 2007. Paperback, price not known. Author's email:

Alexander Matyukhin studied the biology of House Sparrow Passer domesticus and Tree Sparrow P. montanus mainly in Moscow and its environs in the years 1981–2006, and that of the Indian Sparrow P. indicus (considered a race of P. domesticus by many other authors) in the Chimkent Region of southern Kazakhstan in 1985–90 and 2005. Based on the data collected and a review of the literature, this booklet contains 14 chapters – on the seasonal activity of these sparrows, their population status, movements, economic importance, parasitology, and so on.


Minoranskiy, V.A., Uzdenov, A.M. & Podgornaya, Ya.Yu. [The Birds of Lake Manych-Gudilo and the Adjoining Steppes](in Russian). 332 pages, 69 colour and 71 black-and-white photographs, 12 tables. Rostov-on-Don: OOO ‘TsVVR’ Publishing House, 2006. Hardback, price not known, ISBN 5941531125.

Lake Manych-Gudilo, in the border area of the Rostov Region, Kalmykiya and the Stavropol’ Territory (southern European Russia), is the largest lake of the Manych system, which lies in a depression extending some 430 km from the Don Valley southeast to the Caspian Lowlands. The area described in this book includes a Ramsar wetland and sections of the Rostovskiy and Chernye Zemli reserves. The book's ten chapters give a full account of the area and its birdlife: a history of bird studies and anthropogenic changes; geography and climate, etc.; conservation measures; colonial nesters; distribution (seasonal changes); relict elements of the avifauna, and Red Data Book species. There are mostly brief entries for 173 species, of which 135 breed, though not all regularly.


Quaisser, C. & Nicolai, B. Typusexemplare der Vogelsammlung im Museum Heineanum Halberstadt [Type Specimens in the Bird Collection of the Museum Heineanum Halberstadt]. (Abh. Ber. Mus. Heineanum 7, Sonderheft 2.) 105 pages, 2 black-and-white and many colour photographs. Halberstadt: Förderkreis Museum Heineanum e.V., 2006. Paperback, B15.00, ISSN 0947-1057. Contact email:

The ‘Museum Heineanum’ is named after Ferdinand Heine sen. (1809–1894) and the most important of its collections – of birds – dates from 1833. This type catalogue gives details of 328 specimens of 210 taxa. The introductory ‘General part’ surveys, in German and English, the collection's history, characteristics, scientific processing and documentation.


Schaller, G.B. A Naturalist and Other Beasts. Tales from a Life in the Field. 272 pages, black-and-white photographs. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2007. Hardback, $24.95, £15.95, ISBN 9781578051298.

The widely travelled and celebrated field and conservation biologist George Schaller is well known for his studies of large mammals and books such as The Mountain Gorilla and The Last Panda. Nineteen short pieces previously published in magazines are brought together here, each with a new introduction and grouped under four geographical headings. The captive rearing of a Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias is the one bird story, but many more wonderful tales of ‘other beasts’ form the core of this fine anthology.


Waters, E. & Waters, D. The Great Bustard. 16 pages, illustrations (mainly colour photographs). Romsey: The Great Bustard Group, 2006. Paperback, £3.00 available from Professor W.E. Waters, Great Bustard Group, Orchards, Broxmore Park, Bunny Lane, Sherfield English, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 6FT, UK. Email:; website:

The first edition of this booklet (2001) was noticed in Ibis 145: 362. This second edition brings up to date the attempt to reintroduce the Great Bustard Otis tarda to the UK. The first annual release, of birds originating in the Saratov Region (Russia), took place on Salisbury Plain in 2004.


Zhukov, V.S. [Birds of Middle Siberia Forest-Steppe](in Russian). 492 pages, 26 tables, 1 fold-out colour map and 6 other figures, line-drawings. Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2006. Hardback, price not known, ISBN 5020325090.

This book analyses, in considerable detail, the distribution and population density (per km2 or along 10 km of waterbodies) of 197 bird species. Surveys, designed to assess the impact on nature of a vast ‘fuel and energy complex’, were carried out between mid-May and the end of August in 47 habitat-types of three key areas: on the western and northern edge of the Nazarovo Depression (1982, 1983) and, much further east, at Mokrusha on a tributary of the River Kan, in 1985.