The Comoros were the least known ornithologically of all Indian Ocean Islands and the only ones without any significant and modern publication on birds. Of the four islands, one, Mayotte, which is under French administration, has recently produced its own field guide (Les Oiseaux de Mayotte, Clement et al. 2008, Naturalistes de Mayotte). The other three islands, which form an independent republic, are covered by this new atlas, well produced and lavishly illustrated throughout with colour maps.
Following a history of ornithology in the Comoros and a description of their environmental features and the impacts of human activities (although there is nothing on hunting!), 20 pages, half of them island maps, are devoted to methodology. This involved a combination of point counts (2,400) along specific routes and additional records made during other surveys, between 1981 and 2006. Although the effort was unavoidably variable between years and with different teams involved, every record was accurately located with elevation and habitat, and any breeding data were noted. The end product is presented on grid maps of 1 x 1 minute squares (1 minute = 1,800 m) with colour shading illustrating the frequency of records. Ten natural environmental parameters (elevation, rainfall, habitat, etc.) are associated to each square and a potentially suitable breeding area is defined for each species within which its known presence is given. For each species, distribution maps and a photograph or drawing face the text, which presents information on status, distribution, habitat, ecology, breeding and conservation.
Final chapters sum up the status of the 59 breeding species, bird communities in each habitat on each island, the origin of the species and their biogeography, threats and conservation, the proposed protected areas (almost wholly lacking today!) and Important Bird Areas. There is also an appendix listing other species recorded.
This volume is the result of many years of field work by over 20 people, and is useful, well documented and attractive. It should certainly assist the development of local ornithology and, more importantly, conservation in the islands. The latter is still in its infancy and sorely needed. Overpopulation by humans, deforestation and over-use of natural resources in this poor country threaten a number of the endemic species, and some of them are already Extinct or Critically Endangered on one or more islands. This book will also help foreign birders to plan a visit, although there is no chapter on where to go and how to get around. I can say, from my own experience, that Grande Comore is by far the safest and most accessible island, with local agencies organising tours on Mt Karthala, where most of the endemics are quite easily seen. One can only hope that so much knowledge will be soon translated into a field guide and in English (unfortunately there is no translation in this atlas).