Field Guide to the Birds of Argentina and the South-west Atlantic

By Mark Pearman and Juan Ignacio Areta 

Helm, 2020

Hbk and pbk, 480pp; 199 colour plates

Hbk 978-1-4729-8432-6; £60.00

Pbk 978-0-7136-4579-8; £40.00

This book has been so long in the making that I feared it might never appear. Work started on it in 1995 and, having seen some of the original colour plates on a visit to Argentina in 2008, I knew that it was going to fill a major gap in the available literature. Roll forward a decade to a meeting between Nigel Redman and Mark Pearman in Buenos Aires, where a plan came together to finally get things moving again. Instead of the large handbook that had originally been envisaged, the aim was now for a slimmed-down field guide with around six species per plate facing a concise but thorough text and maps – and that is exactly what has been produced. 

The artwork is impressive with the majority of the 2,300 images painted by Aldo Chiappe and Jorge Rodriguez Mata alongside work by Richard Johnson and Alan Harris. Sexually dimorphic plumages are shown, as are selected juvenile plumages and some of the more obvious subspecies. Birds are illustrated as perched and in flight as appropriate.

The species accounts give a few words on range and habitat, followed by a summary of the key identification features and vocalisations. Confusion species are cross-referenced, as are notes on taxonomy. Argentine Spanish names are also provided. Each text is accompanied by a coloured distribution map, with a total of ten different colours to status through the seasons. Some distributions in Argentina are hard to describe because the species, such as hummingbirds, vary their movements depending on the conditions each year. Given that challenge, these maps are easy to interpret and are a key feature of the book.

Both authors are heavily involved in the South American Classification Committee, so it’s no surprise that the taxonomy follows that authority, but IOC English names are used in most cases. An appendix provides taxonomic notes, including highlighting potential future splits. For example, the distinctive northern and southern subspecies of Streaked Flycatcher Myiodynastes maculatus are shown as firm candidates for a split. In this case, the bird inhabiting Argentina is given as M. [m.] solitarius, for which the authors have revived the name Solitary Flycatcher. 

In addition to mainland Argentina, this guide covers the Fuegian, Hornean and Diego Ramírez Islands plus the Falklands. A total of 1,070 species are shown, though this does not include Zimmer’s Tapaculo Scytalopus zimmeri, Ticking Doradito Pseudocolopteryx citreola or Puna Pipit Anthus brevirostris. The explanation given for this is that these are virtually identical in plumage to their lookalike sister species. That is a surprising decision for an otherwise comprehensive book. However, these species are among the 23 for which sonograms are provided in an appendix. Nine introduced species are also excluded but these are described in another appendix. 

With 28 endemics and 17 near-endemics, Argentina has plenty to offer – and now we have an outstanding field guide to use there. Mark Twain famously wrote ‘All good things arrive unto them that wait’, and he was right: we’ve waited a long time for this book… but it was worth it!

Keith Betton

Issue 7
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Field Guide to the Birds of Argentina

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