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Academic & Professional Books  Ornithology  Birds: General

Bird Families of the World An Invitation to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds

Flora / Fauna Out of Print
By: David W Winkler(Author), Shawn M Billerman(Author), Irby J Lovette(Author)
599 pages, ~750 colour photos, 2336 colour illustrations, 243 colour distribution maps
Publisher: Lynx Edicions
Bird Families of the World
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  • Bird Families of the World ISBN: 9788494189203 Hardback Dec 2015 Out of Print #222317
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About this book

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.

Customer Reviews (2)

  • It's not just HBW cut down!
    By Keith 8 Mar 2016 Written for Hardback
    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.
    6 of 6 found this helpful - Was this helpful to you? Yes No
  • Brilliant, highly visual introduction
    By Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne 17 May 2019 Written for Hardback
    If I may give my overall impression up-front, this is a wonderful book; probably the only book in this genre that provides a unique visual overview of the arrangement of the birds of the world by scientific orders, families and even down to genera. The unique selling point of this book is that it is a ‘visual read’ of every order, family and genus and I do mean every genus; something that has never been done before. This is a standard setting book in the use of good design to create a book that allows people to process information intuitively and visually without having to digest a wall of text.

    The layout is fresh, contemporary and exciting. The image selection has been terrific with sharp and well-composed images. The plates allow an easy breakdown of the families into smaller taxonomic levels, down to every genus. The plates are also attractive in their own right and will appeal to those for whom plates are more aesthetic than photographs. Having said that, in this book the photographs are stunning and printed crisply with good colours and come off beautifully so that they are aesthetic as well as functional. The combination of plates and photographs works well.

    Let me expand on why I say this book is one that can be read visually. Let’s start with the ‘pictorial index’ on the inside front cover (for non-passerines) and the inside back cover (passerines). This is almost a numerical tabulation of all the birds in the world. The pictorial index has all the families separated by a green vertical border for the order and the families within it. A glance will show for example that the storks (Order Ciconiiformes) are fairly straightforward with just one family Ciconiidae. On the other hand, the Order Piciformes comprises several families; nine in fact, including the familiar woodpeckers (Picidae). It may surprise the person on the street that woodpeckers and toucans (Ramphastidae) are in the same family. Thus, even the pictorial index works to give a user an insight into the evolutionary relationships as currently hypothesised using molecular work. Within each of the orders, the number of genera is given together with the number of species. Thus, we read that there are 20 species of storks in 6 genera and 50 species of toucans in 5 genera. Thus you can count the orders, families and genera in the quick index, to compile a tabulation of all bird species in the world. The pictorial index is thus also a convenient summary of the birds of the world and the modern taxonomy.

    In the last two decades, molecular phylogenetics has resulted in hugely surprising and counter-intuitive changes in the systematic arrangement of birds. This volume is one of a few that arranges bird families under more recent arrangements based on molecular work. But the big advantage this volume has is that it is the only book that makes it so easy to visualise the taxonomic arrangement.

    A ‘text contents’ page very clearly references page numbers to both the covering text for an order as well as for each of the individual families within that order. The text for the order is typically a fairly brief summary on the taxonomy, often a page at the most, including pictures. The family orders have a standard format with categories for Related Families, Similar Birds, Description, Habitat, Food, Breeding, Conservation and Relationships. The text is written in an accessible and interesting style. The one exception is the ‘Relationships’ category which is in scientific style and cross-references the relevant scientific literature. The text is complemented by figures to indicate the scale, family distribution maps and the plates that break a family down into each genus, as already discussed. More complex families such as hummingbirds (Trochilidae) and Old World Flycatchers and Chats (Muscicapidae) break down into subfamilies and within them tribes. Having read a number of family accounts in this book, I felt that the text has been written very well to capture the essence of a family with great economy in the use of words.

    This book will hold a lot of interest to world birders who may not have the time to keep abreast of what is published in technical journals. For example, it makes clear how the Order Caprimugliformes is now considered to include nine families which comprise the swifts, treeswifts and hummingbirds previously included in Apodiformes, but now within the same order as frogmouths and nightjars. One also encounters new families such as the fairy flycatchers (Stenostiridae), which includes species such as the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher- a bird very familiar to me. The passerines are divided amongst twelve groups. What in many traditional field guides were grouped as flycatchers are now spread across three of these passerine groups. To make sense of all of this, the section on passerines starts with a diagram (figure 11 on page 268) which shows the modern phylogenetic hypothesis. The authors are clear to point out that this is a provisional hypothesis. More molecular work and refinements to how the data is used are likely to result in changes.

    The meat of this book is the family accounts. But the front sections are worth a careful read to understand some of the nuances of molecular phylogenetics and why the authors treat current arrangements as hypotheses. Figure 8 on page 23 illustrates the molecular phylogenetic arrangements for birds used in the book covering all the families and showing an example of a linear arrangement. If the reader is wondering why this is not the same linear arrangement followed in the book this can be deduced from Figure 4 which explains the concept of ‘node spinning’. Essentially the ‘node spinning’ example shows how a phylogenetic relationship could be shown in one of four different linear arrangements, all of which are correct, but which may appear to give different results to a reader. The introduction contains a primer of the classification of birds, phylogenies and avian classification and the meaning of higher taxonomic ranks. The end sections have a list of the literature cited and a glossary.

    It is very rare to have a book so deeply anchored in science; in this case in the science of molecular phylogenetics, but yet to be so beautiful in the use of images and artists’ plates. Any world birder whose interest extends into understanding the ecology, biogeography and evolutionary relationships of the world’s birds will find this book fascinating.
    3 of 3 found this helpful - Was this helpful to you? Yes No
Flora / Fauna Out of Print
By: David W Winkler(Author), Shawn M Billerman(Author), Irby J Lovette(Author)
599 pages, ~750 colour photos, 2336 colour illustrations, 243 colour distribution maps
Publisher: Lynx Edicions
Media reviews

"[...] 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

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