7 Jan 2021
Written for Hardback
This is a review of both Volumes 1 and 2
While there is no shortage of information about European birds in our libraries there have been few books assessing this data at country level. In 2015, Eduardo de Juana and Ernest Garcia wrote The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula
which set a benchmark, and in a similar style now Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso have created the first-ever English book on the birds of Italy. Although this review coincides with the publication of the second volume of this work it is important to recognise that the first volume appeared in 2018. A third volume is expected to appear in about two years.
Both authors have a long history of ornithological research activities that goes back to the early 1970s and they were joint authors of the nine volumes of Ornitologia Italiana
(published between 2003-2015). While that work included much information on identification and ecology, the focus on the new books is to assess the status of all Italian species, with detailed data on distribution, regional populations, habitats, movements, and wintering numbers. Volume 1 covered 384 species and now a further 229 are included in Volume 2.
Both volumes start with three elements that are identical in each. These are a seven-page account of the geography, bioclimate and vegetation of Italy with photographs of a range of habitats (the latter differing in each volume). This is very useful to anyone wanting to understand the range of habitats used by the birds. There is also a seven-page history of Italian ornithology putting into context the work of people such as Scopoli, Savi and Moltoni, to mention just three out of many. An eight-page section also explains how to use the book. In a three-volume work, there will always be some duplication of material, but all three of these sections appear identically in both books which is excessive.
For each species, there is a summary of its worldwide range followed by a more detailed explanation of the Italian breeding distribution (where appropriate) and a description of preferred habitats. A further section on population explains what is known from studies in different Italian regions. A monochrome distribution map accompanies all breeding and wintering species showing range and geographical relief. These are also included for regular passage migrants but not vagrants. For the latter, there is a list of all accepted records since the early 1800s. A section on population discusses in more detail what is known about national and local studies and varies in length and is often up 1500 words. The most recent Italian breeding atlas has not yet been published and the previous survey dates back to 1983-1986, so it is impressive how the authors have managed to consult a huge number of reports published on a local scale to bring everything up to date. A further section on movements and/or wintering extends to a further 50-1000 words depending on the species and is occasionally accompanied by additional maps and seasonal graphs.
The appendices provide further information on introduced or escaped non-established species. There is a list of the conservation status codes of all breeding species which would have been more useful alongside the actual species texts. A gathering of excellent colour photographs is placed at the back.
Both volumes contain a huge amount of information and the authors are to be congratulated in bringing together so much material. The text density is heavy on the eye. In common with their previous works (in Italian) the authors have allowed “forced hyphenation” throughout the text where simple words (some even as short as five letters) are often split between two lines. A rethink on design would help to improve readability for Volume 3.