Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Van Perlo's Birds of South America - Passerines

The latest installment of book reviews for Princeton Press who graciously provided me a review copy...

South American, the Bird Continent.  Who doesn't aspire to eventually go (or return there)?  This book contains every flycatcher, manakin, antwhatever, swallow, tanager, along with tapaculos, tityras, and donacobiuses (though it turns out there's only one donacobius, so I guess we don't need to worry about whatever the plural is).  And lots more.  1900-2000 species are illustrated in a book about the size of an Eastern Peterson (though with 400 birds it's a little thicker) on a little less than 200 plates, with brief info about each species on the facing page.

Let's open it, shall we?  To some random page, how about 314? 

Immediately reality sets in for a book that needs to illustrate nearly 2000 species in a small format.  The artwork is functional (and is better than this reproduction indicates), but the birds are going to be relatively small and there won't be the rich 3 dimensional appearance that's in the modern Peterson or quite as clean as Sibley.  That being said, it's painted by a single artist which allows a person to get their eye in easier to adjust to how that artist interprets the birds.  I've actually seen 2 birds on that plate (#4, the Golden-hooded Tanager, a widely distributed neotropic bird, and #8, Speckled Tanager, a bird I don't have as good a photo of).  Here's Golden-hooded from Costa Rica a few years ago

Though it's probably easier to judge using birds we're all familiar with
I think the shapes are excellent on the Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Buntings, reasonable for the Ovenbird and Golden-wing, though the Blue-wing and Tennessee are a little fat, and the Parula a little long.  That being said, I think they do give an accurate impression of what these birds look like, something that the Garrigues books for Costa Rica and Panama that I've studied a lot the last few years can occasionally leave to be desired.

However, this book isn't really a field guide.  While it does give some concise information about the bird's identification, its habitat and voice, and the book is small, I don't think anyone would carry it in the field given that the overwhelming majority of the birds aren't going to be possible in any given region.  What it is, is an excellent (and at $22 on amazon a very economic) reference book for the armchair birder.  While many of us have a few (or more) field guides to various regions (I think I have 5-6 for Central America and 1 for Equador), this helps give a much broader picture of bird distribution (and species possibilities).  A person can see what overlap occurs between Colombia, Equador, and Peru, or what parts of Brazil would give a reasonable sampling of its birds. 

Want to know how many attilas there are? 
This book will tell you (seven).

Want to stare at (one of 5 1/2 plates) of Antpittas that you're realistically only going to see on paper? No problem.
Bottom line, this book is very worth the price for anyone who would like to consider travel to the birdiest continent in the world.

1 comment:

Cathy Carroll said...

Thanks for this excellent review Matt.