Thursday, September 18, 2014

HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 : Non-passerines

Within the last few days I've received my copy of the above new Checklist. What a tour de force !  But what a challenge too.

Devising a "new" checklist must be no mean undertaking. The authors need to determine their position on a whole range of taxonomic issues, explain the approach being taken and then present the results in a cogent and consistent form. All such is a painstaking process with a need to transport the reader ( and lister! ) through every step of the way, convince them and, in so doing, justify every new approach being taken. Well, this certainly appears to have been the case, and to have succeeded, as far as Volume 1 ( Non-passerines) of this new Checklist is concerned. A detailed and lengthy introduction addresses all the above before the "new" approach is revealed, "the Tobias criteria",  upon which the taxonomic approach selected and contents rest.  Simply put, these criteria employ five types of taxonomic character   ( biometrics, acoustics, plumage and bare parts, ecology and behaviour and geographical relationship )  against which a scoring system is applied. Any taxon scoring over a certain points total then qualifies for species status.

The approach does not, quite remarkably, given initiatives in recent years, include any DNA associated justifications for which the authors provide a well argued case. Some will find this absence of genetic analysis rather strange and it could well be that it represents the most " independent departure" and unique element in the approach the book takes and upon which its contents are based. The introductory, explanatory sections represent a worthwhile standpoint of their own in my view, given the exhaustive and incremental approach taken, whatever one's eventual and personal position results from their reading!

The main part of the book comprises double page format (text on the left and illustrations and incorporated distribution maps on the right ).

As we have come to expect , following the publication of HBW, the layout, quality of presentation and concise nature of the text are first class.  I certainly welcome the introduction of distribution maps and was completely bowled over by the key information being provided, so much so that I lost two hours above what was intended as a cursory examination!!

It is intended that there will be regular updates, an undertaking which has already been given by the authors, besides the publication of Volume 2 being in 2016.  There will be a link with "HBW Alive" and fieldworkers are encouraged to participate in a forum wherein the submission of new information and queries will be encouraged.  Altogether a new approach in so many ways associated with what may yet be described  as "the new definitive taxonomy".  A huge challenge indeed, but looking at my HBW volumes and thinking, "How on earth did they ever achieve all that", I have no doubt that , as before, such hurdles will be overcome.

Anyone who has a serious interest in birds should have a copy of this publication, whatever the cost (£159) and whatever your position might be relating to its contents!!  It is ground-breaking and different,  but worth it for the hours of reflection and enjoyment you'll gain from poring over its contents, in addition to the information you'll glean relating to the initial query you pursued. Well done Del Hoyo and Collar !!

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