Edited by Josep del Hoyo
Lynx Edicions, 2020
Hbk, 968pp; 20,865 colour illustrations, 11,558 distribution maps
ISBN 978-84-16728-37-4; £85.00
A few years ago, I paid a lot of money for a birding tour. Two years later, the same company offered a shorter version of it, focusing mainly on the species that I had originally wanted to see, and now at a fraction of the original price. Doh! The arrival of this book has caused some similar frustrations. People who bought the two-volume Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World in 2014 and 2016 may now be asking why they should buy this new condensed book as well.
The four main checklists that world birders can choose from are Howard & Moore, eBird/Clements, IOC and HBW/BirdLife. They are all slightly different and, respectively, they recognise 10,333, 10,563, 10,783 and 10,989 species. While the two-volume Checklist dealt with all of the taxa in the HBW/BirdLife checklist, there were 535 additional species that were recognised by at least one of the other checklists but which were not included. This single, 5-kg volume takes all 11,524 species that, together, these checklists include and illustrates them all. That is why world birders need this book!
A simple, colour-coded pie chart allows readers to understand quickly which species are included on each list. Each chart is divided into four quadrants, each representing one of the four checklists. If the checklist recognises a taxon as a species, the quadrant is red; as a subspecies group, it is orange; as a subspecies, it is pink; and if not recognised at all, it is left white.
Taking Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret as an example: IOC and eBird/Clements treat this taxon as a species (red); HBW/BirdLife as a subspecies group of Common Redpoll A. flammea (orange); Howard & Moore as a subspecies of A.flammea (pink). When a checklist treats a form as a split from another species, the quadrant has a lower-case letter, which will correspond with an upper-case letter shown against the species from which it has been split. Despite the amount of information being displayed by this method, it is an easy system to follow, and a plastic card inside the cover acts as a user guide to the information provided. There is also an 18-page chapter that explains how the book works and how best to interpret the information provided. This chapter also includes two large phylogenetic trees that illustrate each family and indicate the number of species in each.
But to get all of this into one volume much has been left out, and while it has all of the species illustrated and supported by a map, it lacks most of the species texts that the two-volume Checklist contained. There is, however, a QR code for each species that links to Cornell’s Birds of the World website https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/home, which contains most of the species texts from HBW.
Much of the book consists of an astonishing 19,736 illustrations of extant species. There are around 15 species per page, taken from the original HBW and the Checklist, plus 245 species that were not illustrated in either and are now added for the first time. Where sexes differ in appearance, these are both shown, along with some distinctive subspecies. New species up to the end of 2019 are included. Each species is clearly separated from others using faint but effective borders. In addition, the book refers to 162 species that have become extinct since 1500 with illustrations of most of them. Personally, I have never understood why some books persist in keeping these in. I could understand if there was some doubt about whether they had really disappeared, but mostly that is not in question.
Overall, however, Lynx has, once again produced a book that many birders will want to have.