I must confess that when I was first notified by Princeton University Press about this book, and saw on the cover "Every species illustrated", I was skeptical as to how such a task could be successfully accomplished in one volume. How could the more than 10,700 species be compressed into a single book without the images looking like scrambled eggs?
The answer is now before me!
By judicious use of space, and the creative arrangement of the pictures, each species is indeed illustrated - and illustrated very well. The images are clear, sharp, precise and leave no doubt as to the identification of the bird. Furthermore in species that are sexually dimorphic, both sexes are shown.
I tested the efficacy of the images grouped together on the pages by examining several families where similar looking species might easily lead to confusion, and was unerringly able to pick out species without difficulty. In a tableau of hummingbirds or woodpeckers, for example, a simple glance was all it took to find familiar species. The quality of the illustrations is that good.
We should not be surprised, of course, since the principal illustrators (better that we call them artists actually) are the legendary Norman Arlott and Ber van Perlo, maestros who have set the standard for bird illustration in so many field guides. The supporting cast of Jorge R. Rodriguez Mata, Gustavo Carrizo, Aldo A. Chiappe and Luis Huber, have proved their worth in other guides too, especially those dealing with South America and Antarctica.
There is a great deal of sensory satisfaction to be gained by looking at the pages and taking it all in. The sheer diversity of avian life registers into your consciousness, and you relive the reasons why you were drawn to birds in the first place - for some of us as far back as our earliest memories. The beauty of it all is reinforced and at times the birds seem ready to spring from their perch and fly off the page.
A brief (necessarily brief in fact) description is provided on the page opposite the illustrations; sufficient, however to describe the bird and its habitat.
Typical is the entry for Australian Swiftlet Aerodromus brevirostris: 11-12cm. Breeds in colonies in caves. Cup-shaped nest comprises plant material glued together with saliva and stuck to cave wall. V. Squeaky, twittering calls. H. Feeds over forests and open habitats, most sea level to 500m D. Queensland. All you need to know in a few words!
The taxonomy followed is the IOC World Bird List, now being adopted by more and more ornithological authorities around the world, and a list I have used since its inception.
This is a bold and imaginative work and one that bears the courage and conviction of its authors. I cannot imagine that anyone with even a passing interest in birds would not benefit from this tome - and if you are a world birder you will want to have it ready on the bedside table so you can take a look before even getting out of bed in the morning!
The Complete Birds of the World: Every Species Illustrated
Norman Arlott, Ber van Perlo, Jorge R. Rodriguez Mata, Gustavo Carrizo, Aldo A, Chiappe, and Luis Huber
Hardcover - US$65.00 - 9780691193922 - 640 pages - 25,000 colour illustrations - 8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.25 x 27.5 cm)
Publication date: 7 September 2021