All the world’s birds
A weighty tome from Lynx Edicions illustrates every single one of the bird species currently found on the planet.
EXACTLY how many birds there are in the world is a matter of ongoing debate – both scientific and casual. If one incorporates the full species counted by the four major taxonomies used by birders – HBW/BirdLife, Howard and Moore, eBird/Clements and the International Ornithologists’ Congress (IOC) – there are 11,524 in total. This monumental paving slab of a book illustrates every single one of them (plus most distinctive subspecies) in a single volume.
This is a daunting concept. Previous comprehensive books on the planet’s birds have extended to many volumes – in the case of The Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW), also published by Lynx Edicions, 17 of them. Condensing such information into one book means that most of the detailed information of its predecessors has been lost, leaving a single painting (in most cases) of each species, a distribution map and an indication of its length.
Its species status in the four taxonomies is indicated by an easy-to-digest pie chart showing whether it is accepted by each as a full species, a subspecies or subspecies group, or not recognised.
The maps are generally of the size of a large postage stamp which gives a fairly good idea of range and indicates resident, breeding, winter and past distributions in standard colours (along with endemism). BirdLife/ IUCN Red List categories are also shown and the most frequently used alternative names (whether English or scientific) are listed.
A laminated bookmark showing a basic key is included, so you can dive straight in without reading the preliminaries. Summaries of each family appear in the endpieces, while the book’s fairly lengthy introduction includes a full avian phylogenetic tree to family level, a guide to the world’s biogeographic zones and a helpful explanation of the rationale behind the different taxonomies.
The illustrations show the most distinctive sexually dimorphic plumages and subspecies identifiable in the field (though not juvenile, winter or staged plumage, such as in gulls). Forms illustrated are quite detailed, with the four subspecies of Great Egret recognised by the IOC shown, even though the differences are relatively minimal; however, only three out of 11 subspecies of Clapper Rail are shown.
A check for the unsplit forms of Common Chiffchaff unsurprisingly found them to be unillustrated as they are relatively unidentifiable in the field, but as Siberian Chiffchaff is treated as a full species by HBW, this is included. All the accepted recent IOC splits have been included. Each species’ section has a QR code which links to the relevant eBird species page, handily providing a lot of the information omitted due to lack of space in the book.
This weighty tome is a good way of keeping all four checklists in one place, though as a printed resource, its list is a snapshot in time rather than dynamic (minimal changes and discoveries of new species are certain to accrue over time).
However, the book’s real influence on me was one of awe.
I consider myself as keeping fairly abreast of the wide variety of birds in the world, but there were surprises here, and not just those of obscure species one
might not have heard of.
Seeing illustrations of every species encourages those intense feelings of intrigue and wonderment that first sent me on the birding journey. Look how many different kinds of rail and crake there are arrayed across the Pacific! Be amazed all over again at how many types of bird have radiated in Wallacea and then see them vastly outnumbered by South American species! And check out Tooth-billed Pigeon, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Feline Owlet-nightjar, Coral-billed Ground-cuckoo and Yellowish-breasted Racquet-tail, among many others – and that’s before the astounding range of passerines. There are so many that within this massive book’s pages there is almost no room for margins.
In many respects, this is a hub for further personal (and, indeed, inspiration for academic) research and every page arouses curiosity. It is a breathtakingly comprehensive survey of the avian world’s current stage of evolution and our perception of it, and there will be guaranteed discoveries within its pages, even for some of the more erudite ornithologists. As a way of grasping the sheer breadth of the forms and varieties of bird species, there is nothing quite like it. David Callahan