Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Cracids but Already Knew


Currassows and Related Birds . Delacour, J., and D.Amadon, with an updated chapter by J. delHoyo and A.Motis . 2004 . Lynx Edicions , Barcelona . 476 pp ., 52 black-and-white maps and figures, 56 color plates, 6 dichotomous keys . $76.00 (hardcover) . ISBN 84-87334-64-4 .

Approximately 30 years ago Jean Delacour and Dean Amadon published an elegant book (Delacour 1973) about a cryptic group of tropical game birds, of which relatively little was known at the time. They published that book with every bit of information they were able to come across, from notes scribbled by zoo curators to scrawled records of habitat, voice, and other important aspects of natural history made during brief research trips to the birds' native haunts. Most likely Delacour and Amadon had no idea at the time of writing that the foundations they were inadvertently planting 30 years ago would later expand into a passionate fervor for one group of birds with which, from an autecological standpoint, Neotropical ornithologists would become most involved. Today the World Conservation Union Birdlife Cracid Specialist Group (CSG) boasts a list of some 500 correspondents, many of whom are Cracidologists actively working in the field. To this band of dedicated scientists, the original book by Delacour and Amadon served as a bible of sorts. In the last decade, the CSG has published a plethora of books (more than 100 chapters spanning approximately 1000 pages in four separate trilingual books) and a trilingual biannual bulletin (20 volumes containing approximately 50 articles to date). The updated chapter by del Hoyo and Motis in the new Curassows and Related Birds is primarily an exhaustive compilation of those works already published by the CSG. This is not too surprising considering that neither del Hoyo nor Motis has ever done any work on cracids (neither author appears in the more than 700 references appearing at the end of the updated chapter).

The revised Curassows and Related Birds is divided into three major parts. The first part (pp. 18–206) comprises the original book with the original black-and-white figures that appeared therein. The second part (pp. 207–320) are color plates from the cracid section in Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW), Volume 2 (del Hoyo et al. 1994); plates from the original book; and some updates (including 15 plates of downy young at the end). The final part (pp. 321–476) is the updated chapter by del Hoyo and Motis.

One of my biggest concerns about this book was that it would not include individually itemized references and that references would instead be summarized at the end of each species account, similar to the problem with HBW (del Hoyo et al. 1994). The problem with summarizing references at the end of each species account is that the individual references cannot be traced, thereby forcing anyone using a Lynx Edicions publication as a source to cite del Hoyo et al. (1994), rather than the rightful author. During several conversations with Amadon about this before his unfortunate death in January 2003, he was also quite concerned about this issue. Thankfully, del Hoyo was careful to cite individual references in the new book, to avoid Lynx Edicions being viewed as one of a number of scandalous businesses characterized by the wholesale theft of the hard work of others.

One problem with this book is that Hoyo and Motis incorrectly summarized some of the information already published by the CSG. I provide one example with which to make my case. In the second paragraph on page 339, they state in relation to the Chaco Chachalaca (Ortalis canicollis) “… only one sighting involved a group of nine birds … .” When one checks the cited reference, however, flocks of nine were actually observed more than once (Brooks 1997). Although this may seem trivial, attention to detail is of the utmost importance when doing a master compilation of already published works. Other more extreme errors include, for example, misspelled species names.

Another fault of this book is that it is not trilingual. Only one species of cracid (the Plain Chachalaca, Ortalis vetula) occurs in the United States (in the southernmost three counties of Texas), with the other 49 species occurring entirely in Latin America. As such, the primary audience of this book is Latinos, whose primary language may not be English. The hefty price of $75.00 also will make this book prohibitively expensive for the libraries where it is needed most. Many of the cracidologists using this book, however, will have Web access to the trilingual publications of the CSG.