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Handbook of Australian, New Zealand, & Antarctic Birds (Hanzab).

HANDBOOK OF AUSTRALIAN, NEW ZEALAND, & ANTARCTIC BIRDS (HANZAB). VOLUME 7. BOATBILLS TO STARLINGS. Part A: Boatbills to Larks; Part B: Dunnock to Starlings. Edited by R J. Higgins, J. M. Peter, and S. J. Cowling. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia. 2006: 1,984 pp., 54 color plates, numerous range maps, line drawings, and sonograms. ISBN: 0-195-53996-6 (set of A & B). $424.50 (cloth).--This, the final volume in this mammoth series, completes coverage of the Order Passeriformes. It proved to be too long to publish as a single book and, hence, consists of two separately bound parts. Twelve families are covered in Part A (pages 1-1056), Dicruridae (fantails, drongos, monarch flycatchers, and boatbills) to Aludidae (larks) and includes 75 species. Sixteen families are covered in Part B (pages 1056-1984), Prunellidae (accentors) to Sturnidae (starlings and mynas) and includes 94 species. The species accounts vary in length from less than one page for the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), an unconfirmed vagrant in the HANZAB region, to 50 pages for the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), a widespread polytypic species.

The species accounts for each family are preceded by a family account, usually of 3-4 text pages, including the references cited. Species accounts begin with the scientific and common names, other English names, and a listing of subspecies for polytypic forms. Typically then follow sections on field identification, habitat, distribution and population, threats and human interactions, movements (including a section on banding data and longevity), food (including foraging behavior), social organization, social behavior, voice (including sonograms), breeding, plumages, bare parts, molts, measurements, weights, structure, age and gender identification, and geographical variation (including detailed treatment of subspecies). The account concludes with a references section. Taxonomy generally follows Christidis and Boles (1994, RAOU Monograph 2, Melbourne), augmented by Schodde and Mason (1999, CSIRO, Melbourne). Range maps depict areas of documented breeding in red and areas of occurrence in half-tone red. Red arrows point to island occurrence.

The color plates by P. R. Marsack, N. Day, K. Franklin, P. J. Slater, J. Luck, and D. J. Onley are uniformly excellent, and depict multiple images to show differences by gender, age, and subspecies plumages where appropriate. For example, for the polytypic Singing Bushlark (Mirafra javanica), 16 images occupy the entire plate. Many plates show birds in flight. For example, one plate illustrates three currawong species (Artamidae) perched and a subsequent plate shows them in flight. Line drawings supplement a few species accounts.

Volume 7 completes this handbook series. The project started in 1981 with Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union (RAOU) (now Birds Australia) Council approval for production of a four-volume coverage of the birds of Australia, patterned after the Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. By 1985 Antarctica and New Zealand had been incorporated into the project and by 1989 a contract had been signed with Oxford University Press to publish the series. Volume 1 was published in two parts (volumes) in 1990 and $A8,000,000, 957 species, and 26 years later the project has been completed. In a section "Finishing HANZAB--A Reflection," Peter Higgins, a senior editor throughout the project, summed up the purpose of the project, "From the outset, the major goals of the project have been, firstly, to summarize all that we know of the birds of Australia, and later New Zealand and the Antarctic, and to make clear what we do not know; and, secondly, to prepare detailed summaries of the plumages and other external morphology of all species, describing and analyzing all sources of variation observed." In all these they have admirably succeeded. Because the 'what we do not know' is so striking, the heuristic value of the series should be immense. For example, in the species account for the Yellow-breasted Boatbill (Machaerirhynchus flaviventer), we find: "MOVEMENTS Little known," "[foraging] behaviour Poorly known...," "SOCIAL ORGANIZATION Very poorly known," "SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR Very poorly known," "VOICE Not well known," "BREEDING Poorly known. ..." There are comparatively few ornithologists in Australia and the opportunities for research are, as a result, extensive.

Volume 7, as with earlier volumes, is well organized, thoroughly researched, well illustrated and exhaustive. The range maps are detailed and easy to read. I particularly like that the references for each family or species account are listed at the end of the account rather than at the end of the volume, but I have always been irritated by the abbreviation of citations--the titles are not included. This series is the first place I turn to for information on Australasian birds. It is simply indispensable for anyone with a serious interest in birds of this region. The volumes are expensive, so academic and larger public libraries should be encouraged to acquire the series. The RAOU (Birds Australia) is to be congratulated on producing such an important series of books.--WILLIAM E. DAVIS JR., Professor Emeritus, Boston University, 23 Knollwood Drive, East Falmouth, MA 02536, USA; e-mail:
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Author:Davis, William E., Jr.
Publication:The Wilson Journal of Ornithology
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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