We have had a long wait for this book, the final volume of The Handbook of Birds of the World. In August 2014, I reviewed the first volume of the Illustrated Checklist, which covered the non-passerines. Like the first volume, this book will be enjoyed by all birders. At over a thousand pages, it is large and expensive—about $240 at current exchange rates. Libraries should be encouraged to obtain both volumes. The book is available from the publisher, with free shipping, or from Amazon.
The checklist is not meant to be an identification guide, but rather 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, population status, subspecies and species' distribution. A reference is given to the 17-volume, Handbook of the Birds of the World, thus serving as an index to that monumental work.
This passerine volume contains 446 plates containing 6649 small illustrations of the world’s songbirds. These drawings are generally very good, but tend to be in a cookie-cutter style, with birds often in identical poses. I cannot imagine the technical challenge to produce this work. It seems almost nitpicking to criticize occasional slight errors in bird shapes or colors. Critically look at the odd shapes of many of the antbirds and North American thrushes, the color of the Scarlet Tanager is completely wrong. The checklist follows a European and occasionally idiocentric taxonomy, briefly discussed in a short introduction. According to the publisher, this volume has 41 lumps and 628 splits from even their Handbook of Birds of the World series. Some ornithologists have questioned whether these books are the appropriate venue for new taxonomic science. These slight flaws and the taxonomic changes, however, do not critically affect the glory of this book.
The checklist contains almost 3000 bibliographic references. Readers are left with a wonderful overview of bird diversity. Almost as interesting as the colors and patterns of the planet’s birds are their range maps. The maps clearly show the intriguing distribution of birds and, along with the portraits, give us a snapshot of avian evolution.