Handbook of the Birds of the World: Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes (Anglais) Relié – Illustré, octobre 2005
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Of course, this makes the HBW extremely expensive. Each volume costs 265 dollars, the entire series (so far) goes for incredible 3,445 dollars. You probably have to be a state congressman to afford the lot! I'm lucky to live in a city where at least one library has all 12 volumes in a public reference section, but if you live in Littletown or Smallville, you might have something of a problem. Personally, I think I'll save some money to buy at least ONE volume of the series, just to prove I wasn't born on the wrong side of the tracks, LOL. But yes, I would LOVE to have the entire series, all 12 volumes sort of casually spread out in my living room, one here and one there. How's that for the lifestyle of the Noveau Riche?
When I eventually buy that one volume, I don't think it will be this one. With all due respect, thrushes are quite boring birds. Volume 4 (includes cuckoos, turacos and parrots) and volume 6 (includes trogons, rollers and hornbills) seem more exciting.
Still, when I went to the library to get a feel for this book, I nevertheless looked through this volume, which includes thrushes, wrens, waxwings and dippers, amongst others. Each volume of the HBW is organized in pretty much the same manner. First comes a general chapter on the bird family under review, including sections on Systematics, Morphological Aspects, Habitat, General Habits, Voice, Food and Feeding, Breeding, Movements, Relationship with Man, and finally a section on Status and Conservation. The general chapters are illustrated with large photos of various birds. There are often two photos per page, and amazingly enough, they are all in color! After the general chapter comes the species presentations. Color plates illustrates each species, and most of the subspecies, with a couple of varieties thrown in for good measure. Each species is then described in some detail. There is also an extensive bibliography after each presentation.
What really struck me when going through this volume, was the sheer immensity of information. Even the photo captions are filled with information. Frankly, a piece of information about thrushes, wrens or dippers not found in this volume, probably isn't worth knowing anyway! Thus we learn that William Blake wrote a poem about Robins, that 36% of the diet of a Mistle Thrush in Britain consist of insects and only 3.5% of slugs, that Fieldfares attack their enemies by defecating (I will avoid Fieldfares in the future), that the Island Thrush prefers to live at elevation 1000-1650 meters in the Philippines, but breed at 2100-3200 meters in Borneo, that Grand Cuckoo-Shrikes occasionally eat House Sparrows, and that there are 85 species of wrens (the gods must be crazy). We also learn that there is a bird named Ring Ouzel, and another called Black Solitaire. And then there's the Hypocolius (you heard me).
Aren't there any negatives about these books? To advanced biology students, probably not. To laymen, maybe a couple. I already mentioned the sheer volume of information. Another problem is that the book is teeming with never-explained scientific terminology. If you want to buy it, you better learn the meaning of words such as monotypic, congener, superspecies, conspecific, corvoid (sic) and dimorphism. (That's an easy one.) Thus, the HBW isn't for laymen, amateurs or people with a purely casual interest in birds. In order to really appreciate it, you need to be an experienced bird-watcher, a serious biology student, or perhaps a fanatical lover of profesionally produced books (me!). In other words, don't buy it for your kids just because they have a parakeet!
Finally, a personal observation. Although I'm singularly uninterested in thrushes, I almost wanted to spend the 265 dollars anyway, just after a few minutes of leafing. Once again, the photos are superb, and the color illustrations as well. This simply is THE MOTHER OF ALL BIRDBOOKS. Period!