Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Handbook of the Birds of the World—Alive

Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Vol 1. Non-passerines. Josep del Hoyo and Nigel J. Collar. 903 pp. Hardbound. $194.65. Handbook of the Birds of the World—Alive. Subscription website. Approximately $40 or $60 annually, depending on subscription level.

Almost any birder will greatly enjoy the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Volume 1—but it is a large, heavy, expensive book. The book contains 357 plates containing 8290 small, thumb-sized illustrations of the non-passerines of the world. These drawings are generally very good, but tend to be in a cookie-cutter style, with birds often in identical poses.

The book is not meant to be an identification guide, but rather is a review of avian diversity. The color plates each contain about two-dozen birds and show species and many subspecies. Small range maps are included on each plate. Opposite each plate is a page giving alternative names, taxonomic notes, and subspecies and distribution. There is also a note on population status and a reference to where the bird appears in the 17-volume, Handbook of the Birds of the World, thus serving as an index to that monumental work.

The 30-page introduction is an interesting discussion about how species evolve and how they are defined. Also covered are definitions of terminology and the general layout of the species accounts. The book ends with at least 30 large atlas-sized maps of the regions of the world, including topographical landmarks and often political boundaries within countries (states and provinces). Finally, the book ends with a list of 2126 bibliographic references.

If you don’t have the $400 required for this volume and the upcoming checklist for all the passerines, or the $3760 (a 20% discount) for the whole 17-volume, Handbook of the Birds of the World, then consider the Handbook of Birds of the World—Alive (HBW—Alive).

HBW—Alive is the web version of the Handbook. You can buy a yearly subscription for approximately $40 annually. The website is massive, covering all 13,367 pages written by 277 authors, 10200 maps, and containing some 15 million words. All the family texts have internet links--some 17000 of them. You can search for bird families and species accounts for any of the birds of the world. But what is awesome is that HBW—Alive is being continually updated with new ornithological information, making the website truly alive and a vision into our technological future.

HBW—Alive lacks the sumptuous photographs of the Handbook. In their place are links to a wide array of still and video sequences of the birds. At this time, this includes over 67,500 links to pictures, videos, and sounds. Links also exist to the original literature cited in the text—although this ability is available only to Supporting Members for about $60 per year.

HBW—Alive also allows you to keep personal notes and to create printable country checklists, complete with color illustrations of every species. Keeping life-lists is also possible for Supporting Members. Updates from the ornithological journals of the world are also available. I have barely scratched the surface of what a stupendous resource this website offers. Anyone seriously interested in birds should check out this link: Overview of HBW—Alive.

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