Here in one volume is a synopsis of the diversity of all birds. Published between the two volumes of the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Bird Families of the World distills the voluminous detail of the 17-volume Handbook of Birds of the World into a single book. Based on the latest systematic research and summarizing what is known about the life history and biology of each group, this volume will be the best single-volume entry to avian diversity available. Whether you are a birder with an interest in global bird diversity, or a professional ornithologist wishing to update and fill-in your comprehensive knowledge of avian diversity, this volume will be a valuable addition to your library.
An interest in birds is a life-enriching pursuit; the sheer diversity of birds means there are always stunning new species to see and novel facets of their lives to explore. Yet the grand diversity of birds is also a challenge, as it is easy to become disoriented amidst a group that contains more than 10,000 species that vary in nearly all of their most conspicuous attributes. Learning avian diversity requires a mental map to help us organize our experiences and observations. The scientific classification of birds provides exactly this framework, grouping together into Orders and Families birds that are most closely related to one another, and thereby linking species that share distinguishing traits. For those interested in learning about the tremendous diversity of birds world-wide, the best way to start is to learn the families, and Bird Families of the World is a guide and invitation to do so.
This book has been designed to serve both as a text for ornithology courses and as a resource for serious bird enthusiasts of all levels. Technical terminology is much reduced, and all scientific terms used are defined in a glossary. Introductory material describes the scope and concepts behind the classification used and gives suggestions about how best to use the book. The bulk of Bird Families of the World is a family-by-family account of the birds of the world. Each family is represented by at least a two-page spread, including a distributional map with the breeding, non-breeding and year-round ranges of each family, a short text "teaser" to invite the reader to learn more, standardized descriptions of the appearance, relationships and similar species to each family's members, their life history and conservation status. Each account includes a review of recent ideas about the relationships of the family to other families and relationships within it. The work is liberally illustrated by photographs from bird enthusiasts around the globe as well as paintings of one species from each of the genera in each family. It will be a beautiful and serviceable guide.
"[...] this substantial body of work brings together core information for all the world's bird families, and is the most up-to-date overview of its subject matter to date. It also neatly complements the first volume of Lynx's Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World"
– Dominic Mitchell, 28th May 2016, Birdwatch 287
"The taxonomy of birds being constantly in flux, there is never the perfect time to commit an overview to print. This volume, however, is an impeccable exposition of the state of play. [...] The subtitle invites us to the spectacular diversity of birds. The book being so splendidly illustrated, it does indeed provide spectacle on every page and can thoroughly be recommended as an introduction to the world of birds. Some readers might be frustrated, though, by the lack of information at species level that can be found in most other books about birds. Text at family level suits a more refined palate but will appeal to the more knowledgeable world birder and provide authoritative reference for students of ornithology, phylogeny and evolution."
– John Marchant, BTO book reviews
"[...] Bird Families of the World has been designed to serve both as a resource for serious bird enthusiasts of all levels and a text for ornithology courses. Whether you are a birder with an interest in global bird diversity, a professional ornithologist wishing to update and fill-in your comprehensive knowledge of avian diversity, or a lister trying to see representatives of all the world’s bird families, this volume will be a valuable addition to your library."
– Frank Lambert (05-03-2016), read the full review at The Birder's Library
When I first heard about this book I assumed that it would be a cut-down version of the family texts from the 17 volumes of Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) – but I was completely wrong! This is a whole new book, created by a team at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and using a completely new set of 750 colour photographs. The only parallel with HBW is that it includes 2,336 colour illustrations from that publication to illustrate all of the genera. So it is a brand new book – and to ignore it would be a mistake.
A relatively short 19-page introductory chapter explains how the book works and also introduces the reader to the complexities of taxonomic study. A short paper then introduces three completely new passerine families – Chaetopidae (Drakensberg Rockjumper and Cape Rockjumper), Hylocitreidae (Olive-flanked Whistler) and Modulatricidae (Spot-throat, Dapple-chest and Grey-chested Kakamega). None of these are new species – but all have been mixed up in other groups in the past and these new families are described for the first time.
Each of the family chapters gives a general overview of plumage and appearance, habitat preferences, food, breeding and conservation. There is also a section describing the relationships between each family and those that are currently considered to be their closest relatives. The one thing you can be sure of with taxonomy is there is no such thing as “the last word”. The writers are very clear in pointing the way to where new research is needed. A colour distribution map for each family is included. The HBW illustrations of each genus accompany the chapters and the text is liberally scattered with colour photographs. These are generally of a high standard although a few fall below the standards that I would have set – such as that of a Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus behind a mass of twigs.
Because of the strong co-operation between the teams at Cornell and Lynx this new book actually confirms the direction in which Volume 2 of the HBW Checklist will be heading in terms of macrosystematics. That book will appear towards the end of this year and so we can now see that in total HBW will recognize 36 orders and a total of 243 bird families. This new book makes radical alterations to the layout of the passerines. Many of these changes will be familiar to some as they have already appeared in other published and online checklists – but with HBW currently recognising only 204 families it is a major step forward.
There are too many changes to describe here in detail, but for example in HBW the Old World Warblers (Sylviidae) used to number 272 species in 42 genera, but now they are 65 species in 19 genera. Within these we used to have around 70 warblers of the genus Phylloscopus but now we have new families such as the Leaf Warblers (Phylloscopidae) which contains the genus Phylloscopus (now reduced to 15 species), and three other genera. So the Wood Warbler is now Rhadina sibilatrix and Pallas’s Leaf Warbler is Abrornis proregulus. Alongside this the Acrocephalus warblers are now in a group called Reed Warblers and allies (Acrocephalidae) which consists of 53 species in 6 genera.
Another change is the split of Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus into its own family (Panuridae) and away from the Parrotbills (Paradoxornithidae). However those people who rejoiced at the creation of many new species in Volume 1 of the HBW Checklist may be in for a disappointment with Volume 2 as if we are to believe the information provided here there will be 6037 passerines – making a grand total of just 10,409 species.
So Bird Families of the World is a significant book, and one that you will need by your side when working out how all of the new families fit together. Users of HBW (and most major checklists other than Howard and Moore) will find lots to surprise them in this book. Its style is less conversational than HBW, but it provides a lot of information in one place and deserves to be on the bookshelf of every world birder.