Oxford University Press

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The Titles

Harriers of the World, by Robert E. Simmons
Fairy-wrens and Grasswrens, by Ian Rowley and Eleanor Russel
The Hornbills, by Alan Kemp
The Birds of Paradise, by Clifford B. Frith and Bruce M. Beehler
The Penguins, by Tony D. Williams
The Megapodes, by Darryl N. Jones, René W. R. J. Dekker and Cees R. Roselaar
The Auks, by Anthony J. Gaston and Ian L. Jones
Avian Growth and Development, by J. Matthias Starck and Robert E. Ricklefs (Eds.)
Parasitic Birds and Their Hosts, by Stephen I. Rothstein and Scott K. Robinson (Eds)
The Evolution of Avian Breeding Systems, by David J. Ligon

The Reviews

Harriers of the World

Their Behaviour and Ecology, by Robert E Simons

Illustrated by Peter Marsack
Bird Families of the World Series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854964 4
Price = Hbk £27.50
Published = 2000
Review written = 20/april/2001
368 pages
Line Drawings by John Simmons

As someone who lives in a wetland I have ample opportunities to observe two species of Harrier and am often amazed at their grace and beauty. It is easy, from this standpoint, to understand why someone would why someone could spend a lifetime studying their behaviour. Harriers like all raptors attract a lot of attention and there have been several books published on them in the past. this work differs from those in that the author has access to much new information, and because his study species were not any of the European species. It is good that the author has been able to blend his research into all the worlds species with his personal studies of a North American and a South African species.

The book does not claim to be a standard monograph, however it remains a fairly comprehensive account of Harrier ecology. the author is a delight in his ability to make lucid the often inaccessible concepts and theories behind modern ecological thinking which so often end up looking confusing and even irrational in the words of less accomplished authors.

The book is essentially about Harrier ecology as a review of the chapter headings below will demonstrate and any physiology that has crept in has done so in order to help elucidate an ecological problem, this and the authors easy writing style are sure to make this book a hit with bird watchers around the world. My future observations of my local species will be far more enjoyable for having read this delightful book.

Chapter headings are:-1)Introduction. Changing perspectives: from natural history to behavioural ecology; 2)Evolution and peculiarities of the harries; 3)Aerial displays: mate choice and reversed dimorphism; 4)Of mice and harriers: who wins the arms race; 5)Mating patterns: polygyny and deception; 6)Copulation patterns and sperm depletion; 7)Sex ratio and egg size manipulation; 8)Food and reproduction in the tropics; 9)Clutch size and latitude; 10)Synthesis.

Highly Recommended

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Fairy-wrens and Grasswrens

by Ian Rowley and Eleanor Russel

Illustrated by Peter Marsack
Bird Families of the World Series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854690 4
Price = Hbk £40.00
Published = 1997
Review written = 27/February/2000
274 pages
9 colour plates

Like all the volumes I have seen in this series so far this is an excellent book. The Malurids are an often beautiful and ecologically fascinating family of birds. This volume presents all that is known of their biology and behaviour in a pleasant and readily accessible format.

The book is arranged in two parts. The first part is a series of eight chapters which introduce us to the biology and taxonomy of the Malurids. It also contains a lovely chapter on the biogeographic history of Australia and PNG, which though written with specific reference to the Malurids applies equally well to many other aspects of the unique Australian fauna.

The second part is a species list, detailing in 100 pages all that is known of the 25 species of Malurids. One of the interesting things about reading this book is discovering how often even basic ecological facts like how many eggs are laid or what the nest looks like are not known. Having lived in Australia as a young man, I had a strong interest in this volume and it has filled me with a desire to return and take up studying the ecology of these birds.

Chapter headings for the first part: 1) Introduction to Malurids; 2) Taxonomy of the family Maluridae; 3) Environment, biogeography and evolution; 4) Morphology, locomotion and feeding behaviour; 5) Social organization and vocal communication; 6) Co-operative breeding; 7) Life histories; 8) Conservation.

All in all this is a well written book amply adorned with b/w illustration and graphs that will be an essential reference on these delightful birds for year to come.

Highly Recommended

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The Hornbills

by Alan Kemp

Illustrated by Martin Woodcock
Bird Families of the World Series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 857729 x
Price = Hbk £40.00
Published = 1995
Review written = 27/February/2000
302 pages
14 colour plates

This is the first volume published in this series and one which set a high standard, a standard which has for the most part been maintained.

Hornbills are relatively common birds in aviaries and zoos. Their distinctive appearance makes them popular with the general public. However, as this book makes clear, it is not their looks which make them fascinating but their ecology.

Like every volume in this series this book is divided into two parts. The first part consists of 7 chapters which between them comprise an excellent introduction to the Hornbills. This book is the sort of book a data hog like myself loves. With lots of lovely tables displaying much useful information in an easily accessible form, it is a pleasure to read. The lucid text is amply illustrated with b/w drawings. The addition of an appendix on captive management should greatly increase its value to anyone interested in breeding Hornbills. The colour plates are lovely and in illustrating every species make this book useful also for identification purposes. This is greatly enhanced by the addition of two plates depicting each species in flight.

Chapter headings for the first part: 1) The world of Hornbills; 2) The design of Hornbills; 3) Non-breeding behaviour and biology; 4) Feeding ecology; 5) Breeding biology; 6) Relationships and evolution of Hornbills; 7) Conservation.

Part 2 comprise the 54 species reports giving all the current knowledge. After this there is a useful (for schools) glossary, 20 pages of references and an index. All in all a lovely book to own and read, which will without doubt be the main reference on Hornbills for some time to come.

Highly Recommended

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The Birds of Paradise

by Clifford B. Frith and Bruce M. Beehler

Illustrated by William T Cooper
Bird Families of the World Series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854853 2
Price = Hbk £50.00
Published = 1998
Review written = 22/February/2000
612 pages
15 colour plates

Bird families of the World is an ambitious and very exciting project aimed at producing an extended series of high quality reference works on various bird families. The series is off to a good start with 6 volumes already in print and several more on the way. The Birds of Paradise is, so far, the most majestic of these.

A volume of immense value, this book will be greatly treasured by all who own it. It is an extremely comprehensive look at these fascinating birds. The text is lucid and well illustrated with numerous b/w illustrations, diagrams, graphs and tables. The colour plates are simply excellent.

The book is divided into 2 parts and 9 chapters. The first 8 chapters comprise part one which adds up to a comprehensive and scientifically accurate 168 page introduction to the history, biology and ecology of Birds of Paradise. Everything known about Birds of Paradise is included here in an easily digestible form.

The second part of the book is the species reports, 330 pages devoted to detailing all that is known about the lives of each of the 42 species of Bird of Paradise. This amount to 7.5 pages per species which is quite a wealth of information.

Chapter headings for the first part: 1) The incredible Birds of Paradise - an introduction; 2) Discovery of the Birds of Paradise and history of their study; 3) Evolution and biogeography of the Birds of Paradise; 4) Ecology of Birds of Paradise; 5) Reproductive behaviour; 6) Nesting biology and parental care; 7) Birds of Paradise in human tradition and culture; 8) Conservation.

There are also 7 appendices, including an examination of 4852 museum skin specimens, a glossary, a 25 page bibliography and a competent index.

All in all this is a very complete, articulate and beautiful book, a real joy for anyone with the slightest interest in these amazing birds.

Highly Recommended

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Illustrated by J. N. Dories and John Busby
Bird Families of the World Series
ISBN = Hbk 019 854667 x
Price = Hbk £40.00
Published = 1995
Review written = 13th/February/2000
293 pages
8 colour plates

Bird families of the World is an ambitious and exciting project aimed at producing an extended series of high quality reference works on various bird families. The series is off to a good start with 6 volumes already in print and several more on the way.

The Penguins was the second to be published in the series, and though it deals with a bird family about which much has already been published it is a worthy member of the series.

Penguins are the most popular of birds and one of the most popular animals in most zoos, so this volume should be welcomed by the many Penguin fans around the world. As with all the books in this series, the book is in two parts. The first part is a comprehensive 143 p introduction to Penguins and their biology. It is the most complete book on penguins I have read as far as facts ad ecology are concerned, though it lacks much of the fascinating trivia of some other works. It is logically set out, up to date and easy to use. A reference work that will be valued by both professional and amateur ornithologists as well as by ecology students world-wide.

The text is amply illustrated with numerous b/w drawings, tables and charts. The second part of the book comprise the species accounts and amounts to 121 pages. This is 7 pages per species so there is plenty of information supplied. A useful 24 page bibliography and an index complete the work.

The Chapter headings for part 1 are: 1) Introduction; 2) Origins and evolution; 3) Breeding, biology and moult; 4) Population structure and dynamics; 5) Behaviour; 6) Foraging ecology (by Rory P Wilson); 7) Physiology; 8) Conservation : threats to penguin populations (by P Dee Boersma and David L Stokes).

All in all this is a worthwhile addition to the penguin literature, containing as it does much information not easily available otherwise.

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Avian Growth and Development

by J. Matthias Starck and Robert E. Ricklefs (Eds.)

Oxford Ornithology series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 510618 3
Price = Hbk £49.95
Published = 1998
Review written = 13th/February/2000
439 pages

Physiology is not every ornithologists cup of tea, and it is also that area of biology most frequently glossed over by naturalists. However once you have the initial barriers of language it is as fascinating as any other aspect of avian biology. This book is not however aimed at the novice bird watcher with a casual interest in how a bird works. It is a serious text book aimed, as are all this series at university students and beyond.

"Avian Growth and Development" deals with a large number of interrelated topics, see chapter headings below. As the title infers the overall slant of the work is to explain the variations in developmental patterns observed within the altricial-precocial spectrum. In general it achieves this aim quite well. The 17 chapters are written by a very European dominated collection of authors. The involvement of one of the editors in over half the chapters probably contributes to the sense continuity that exists within the work as a whole. Though this is a very technical work requiring a certain amount of basic biological knowledge to follow the text easily it is not the impenetrable morass some physiology texts tend towards. In fact some chapters, such as G. Henk Visser's "Development of Temperature Regulation" are particularly well written and will be a great boon to students.

Many of the chapters contain tables of data for various groups of birds at ordinal to species level, and the last chapter is 32 page set of avian growth parametre for numerous species. The addition of this data should greatly enhance the value of the book to researchers and students alike. The addition of a separate species index also adds to the works usability.

Chapter headings: 1)Patterns of Development: The Altricial-Precocial Spectrum; 2)Embryonic Growth and Development; 3)Structural variants and Invariants in Avian Embryonic and Postnatal Development; 4)Energy Metabolism, Gas Exchange, and Ventilation; 5)Development of Temperature Regulation; 6)Development of Locomotion and Endothermy in Altricial and Precocial Birds; 7)The Endocrine System; 8)The Immune System; 9)Development of Behaviour; 10)Variation, Constraint and Phylogeny. Comparative analysis of Variation in Growth; 11)Internal Constraints on Growth in Birds; 12)Developmental Plasticity; 13)Genetic Aspects of Growth; 14)Causes of Growth Variation and its Consequences for Fitness; 15)Models of Avian Growth and Development; 16)The Evolution of the Developmental Mode in Birds; 17)Data set of Avaian Growth Parametres.

All in all a well produced book that will be a benefit to any library where works on birds or physiology are likely to be looked for.

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The Megapodes

by Darryl N. Jones, René W. R. J. Dekker and Cees R. Roselaar

Illustrated by Ber von Perlo
Bird Families of the World series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854651 3
Price = Hbk £40.00
Published = 1995
Review written = 18th/February/2000
262 pages

Megapodes are unique and fascinating birds whose nesting ecology has intrigued ornithologists and others for decades. they are the only birds whose young not only have no contact with their own parents, but have no contact with other adult birds (as with cuckoos) either. Instead they hatch under the ground alone and after hours of struggle to reach the surface have to fend for themselves immediately.

This volume, the third in this amazing series and the first complete coverage of the Megapodes this century is a comprehensive monograph on these highly individualistic birds. Like all its sibling volumes this work is divided in two parts. The first is an introduction to the biology and taxonomy of the Megapodiidae. A summing up of all that is currently known of these birds, some of which have not been seen for years. The second section is a series of 22 in depth species accounts detailing all the available data on each species in turn.

There is still much that is unknown about megapodes, for some species we do not even have weights. This volume is an invaluable resource in that it not only makes available all that is currently known, but in so doing it highlights the numerous gaps in our knowledge. This will without doubt be a very necessary resource to all researchers and students with even a slight interest in megapodes.

Chapter headings: 1)Introduction to the megapodes; 2)Taxonomy and relationships; 3)Distribution, biogeography and speciation; 4)General biology and behaviour; 5)Megapode incubation sites; 6)Ecophysiology and adaptations; 7)Reproductive behaviour and mating systems; 8)Evolution of megapode incubation strategies; 9)Conservation.

As usual with this series the plates are excellent and the text is well enlivened with b/w illustrations. The work ends with 27 pages of references and an index. All in all another excellent resource which I can highly recommend to libraries and individuals alike.

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The Evolution of Avian Breeding Systems

by David J. Ligon

Oxford Ornithology series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854913 X
Price = Hbk £55.00
Published = January 1999
Review written = 10th/February/2000
504 pages

In the world of avian breeding ecology, as in many other worlds, it is the differences which attract our attention. Thus while over 90% of birds are socially monogamous, the number of papers published as a result of studying monogamous systems is minimal in comparison with the huge total published on polygynous systems.

Never-the-less the evolutionary and ecological consequences to various bird species of their current mating system/s fascinates many ornithologists, behavioural ecologists, theoretical biologists and bird watchers alike. In this book David Ligon has done a wonderful job of presenting a coherent image of the complex world of avian breeding systems. Clearly set out, with theoretical ideas and consequences well explained and interwoven into a satisfying overall synthesis of understanding this book is a pleasure to read. Within its 500+ pages there is a huge wealth of information, amply supported by over 50 pages of references and numerous b/w illustrations.

The difference in value between this and "Parasitic Birds and Their Hosts", (see below), the previous volume in this Oxford Ornithology Series is phenomenal. In this volume you have a greater range of information much more lucidly presented for just over half the price. This time OUP has got it right.

Chapter heading: 1)Introduction; 2)Sexual selection: theories of female mate choice; 3)Ethological concepts and sexual selection; 4)Morphological ornaments and song; 5)Male condition, parasites and fluctuating asymmetry; 6)Empirical studies of major hypotheses; 7)Phylogenetic studies of reproductive patterns; 8)Sexual selection and speciation; 9)Male mate choice and intrasexual competition; 10)The benefits of oviparity and the evolution of parental care; 11)Social monogamy; 12)Extra-pair copulations and their evolutionary significance; 13)Multiple mates: polygyny and co-operative polyandry; 14);Co-operative breeding 15);Lek mating systems 16);Classical polyandry: the most puzzling of avian mating systems 17)Conclusion: new research initiatives.

A quick glance through the above list of chapter headings should be enough to convince anyone that this is a very complete work. The book also contains an appendix of species and groups mentioned in the text, a huge list of references and a reasonable index.

All in all this is a well designed and written book, by far the best of the Oxford Ornithology Series that I have seen so far. I would highly;y recommend this book to anyone.

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Parasitic Birds and Their Hosts

by Stephen I. Rothstein and Scott K. Robinson (Eds)

Oxford Ornithology series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 509976 1
Price = Hbk £90.00
Published = August 1998
Review written = 16th/February/2000
464 pages, 9 halftones, 71 line drawings

Brood parasites, cuckoos and their reproductive kin, have fascinated mankind since the time of Aristotle. In recent years there has been a huge amount of research done into the theoretical implications for evolutionary biology behind the observed relationships between these brood parasites and their hosts. As this book points out in its last chapter their is still much that we do not understand. What we do know though gives us some fascinating insights into the intricate beauty of the living world. This book makes available a considerable amount of that information.

As part of the Oxford Ornithology series this book is primarily aimed at professional ornithologists and university students. As a source information on the various evolutionary and ecological topics relating to to brood parasitism it is excellent. The 23 chapters cover a wide range of species and geographical distributions, giving a well rounded coverage of the subject. There is a lot of raw data here not otherwise available that will be invaluable to researches and students alike all across the globe.

The 23 chapters of the book are divided into eight major sections, of which section one is the introduction and section eight the summary. The other sections are: ii) Coevolution between cuckoos and there hosts -7 chapters; iii) Coevolution between cowbirds and there hosts -3 chapters; iv) Models of host parasite coevolution: equilibrium verses lag -3 chapters; v)Effects of parasitism on host population dynamics -3 chapters; vi) Consequences of parasitism for the mating systems and life histories of brood parasites -1 chapter; vii) Conspecific brood parasitism -4 chapters.

The individual chapters in this work, written by an international collection of authors, are presented as a series of scientific papers. Though this format does much for the standardisation of data presentation in journals it does little to enhance the readability of a book. Because of this, this book is not one to sit and read in a cosy armchair on a winters evening. As with any publication involving numerous authors there is a disparity in the quality of of presentation, as well as of science, between the various chapters. There is an annoying tendency for introductions and methods to become boringly repetitive, reiterating data already seen several times. However overall the feeling is one of a useful collection of data, though personally I feel it is considerably overpriced at £90.00.


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The Auks

by Anthony J. Gaston and Ian L. Jones

Illustrated by Ian Lewington and Ian L. Jones
Bird Families of the World series
ISBN = Hbk 0 19 854032 9
Price = Hbk £40.00
Published = November 1997
Review written = 14th/February/2000
366 pages, 8 colour plates

Many Auks are small to medium black and white birds which do not naturally inspire peoples affections. However within their midst are 3 species of Puffins which are much higher in the public appeal tables. however many of our northern ancestors only survived their harsh winters by feeding on auks and their eggs, it behooves us well then, having already let greed drive one species to extinction, to know as much as we can about the remaining 22 species of these fascinating birds.

This is the 4th volume in this brilliant series started by OUP in 1995. Like all the other volumes in the series it is divided into two parts. The first part is an introduction to the general ecology of the group and the second part is a series of 23 species reports. The latter supplying a huge amount of information on the 22 living and one recently extinct species of Auk. Each species has several pages to itself including a detailed description summarising various physical parametres, breeding biology, foraging ecology, distribution (including a map) and conservation status

This wonderfully detailed book offers all that is currently known about Auks, and as such it will undoubtedly be the main resource for information on them for years to come. As well as the excellently detailed and fluent text the book is illustrated by numerous b/w illustrations and enhanced by 8 excellent colour plates. These plates are clear and accurate, offering birds in flight as well as standing or sitting in the water.

Chapter headings:1)Auks and their world; 2)Systematics and evolution; 3)Distribution and behaviour; 4)Auks in ecosystems; 5)Social behaviour; 6)Chick development and transition from land to sea; 7)Populations and conservation.

This work ends with 34 pages of references and the usual index. All in all another excellent representative of this so far very impressive series.

Highly Recommended

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