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The New World tropics possess the richest avifauna on Earth, with more than 4000 recorded species, many of which are endemic. Two groups found exclusively in this region are the cotingas and the manakins. Few other families of birds have such widespread appeal; they are much sought-after by birdwatchers for their colourful displays, unusual plumages and, in some cases, great rarity. For scientists, their natural history and behaviour provide fascinating case studies that yield important data in the quest to understand evolutionary biology, while, for taxonomists, elucidating their relationships has proved at times fascinatingly elusive, with many novel and unusual developments.
Two decades ago the species covered in Cotingas and Manakins were generally considered to comprise two families, but ongoing molecular work has revealed much about the relationships of these birds. One new family has been erected (the Tityridae) and another more widely recognised (Oxyruncidae). These and other resuls spawned principally by genetic research mean that this diverse assemblage of species is now considered to belong to at least five different families.
Cotingas and Manakins represens the definitive work on these jewels of the Neotropics, looking in detail at more than 130 species. These range from some of the rarest and most enigmatic birds in the world to some of the best-studied of all tropical species; many are breathtakingly colourful and ornate, but some are dowdy and difficult to see. The authors have leant heavily on the published literature, but have also included many personal, previously unpublished data, based on both field and museum studies. The text is supported by 34 colour plates by Eustace Barnes, who has also observed many of the species in the field, as well as by detailed distribution maps and approximately 400 stunning photographs that cover all but a tiny handful of species.
Guy Kirwan has spent much of the last two decades in the Neotropics, from Mexico to Argentina and Chile, but especially Brazil, a country in which he has spent more than seven years in the field. He has written several books, including The Birds of Turkey and is a regular contributor to the academic literature. A research associate of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Guy was one of the founders of the Neotropical Bird Club, and has edited its journal Cotinga since 1996. Since 2004, he has also been the editor of the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. Guy now divides his time between his homes in Rio de Janeiro and Norwich.
Graeme Green was born in Scotland, but grew up in Kent, one of the best counties in Britain for birdwatching. During the late 1970s Graeme was a regular on the UK 'twitching' scene and from there it was a small step to travel abroad in search of birds; he eventually chose the 'bird continent' as his primary love and has travelled widely in search of cotingas and manakins. He has served on the councils of the Oriental Bird Club and the Neotropical Bird Club, and formerly compiled the Taxonomic Round-up for Cotinga.
Cotingas and Manakins
by Keith Betton in the United Kingdom (24/01/2012)
This is the latest volume to join the ranks of Helm Identification Guides. Following hot on the heels of Reed and Bush Warblers and Sylvia Warblers, this large book covers the exotic Cotingas and Manakins (not to be confused with Mannikins). The boundaries of these two bird families – the Cotingidae and Pipridae – have been treated differently by various authors over the years. In Victorian times they were generally assessed by physical structure and grouped accordingly, but with the latest DNA technology we are beginning to understand more clearly how each group of species relates to the other. However, this book takes 130 species that have traditionally been included in these two families and puts in one place just about everything we have ever known about them.
The Manakins and Tyrant-Manakins are a fairly easy group to understand – generally small, colourful bead-eyed birds often with extraordinary displays. The Cotingas are more varied, but include smaller groups such as Pihas, Cock-of-the-Rocks, Bellbirds, Plantcutters, Berryeaters, Fruiteaters, Fruitcrows, Umbrellabirds. The authors have included several closely-related groups that others have placed elsewhere – such as Sapayoa, Schiffornis, Mourners, Purpletufts and Piprites. Also included is the Kinglet Calyptura--a Brazilian species that must have been relatively common during the 19th century, but was "lost" until 1996, since when it has been claimed several times but sadly without conclusive proof.
There are several chapters which discuss aspects of these birds' lives--such as migration and movements, voice, breeding biology, feeding, conservation and systematics. But for many the attraction of this book will be the 34 colour plates by Eustace Barnes. Sometimes these include the birds' natural surroundings, but sadly many do not, which is a shame. The detailed texts then bring together information on identification, distribution, habitat, measurements, geographical variation, voice, natural history, food, display, breeding and status. An excellent large distribution map is given for each species, often showing the ranges of each race. The book includes approximately 400 stunning photographs to cover every species (only Kinglet Calyptura is shown as a specimen). There is a huge section of references with over 1700 papers and publications listed.
Incidentally, if you follow the IOC List of species the authors will rob you of three possible ticks, but that's no reason not to like this book! It has been quite a long time in gestation, and the result is an excellent tome.
"[...] Overall, Cotingas and Manakins is a brilliant piece of work and well worth having in your library. I have regularly dipped into the various species accounts and reminded myself of just how much I have enjoyed seeing these birds on my various trips to the Neotropics. And, of course, I am reminded of how much I want to go and see some more!"
– Grant McCreary (13-02-2012), read the full review at The Birder's Library