This is the first volume of a projected series intended to catalogue all of the world’s avian species and subspecies. A second, covering pigeons to tropicbirds, is due in 2012. The project aims to incorporate the latest scientific discoveries and is being published in sections, the publishers say, to enable rapid updating. Updates will also be available to purchasers through www.thebirdspecies.com.
Charadriiformes covers waders, auks, skuas, terns and gulls, with buttonquails embedded between seedsnipes and Crab Plover Dromas ardeola. After the briefest of lead-ins, the book begins its listing of species and subspecies. Up to half a page of text, often much less, introduces each family. For species and subspecies there are names, authorities and a summary of distribution. Footnotes lead helpfully toward published evidence and some alternative viewpoints, but confusingly each of these elements runs seamlessly into the same information in German. The paintings of Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus on the outside covers are the only illustrations.
This series aspires to follow the Peters checklist as the internationally recognised standard. Success seems unlikely, however, given the current rapid development of molecular science, the large amount of subjectivity inherent in taxonomy and the popularity of its competitors. Most notable among these is the IOC site www.worldbirdnames.org, which as a collaborative, web based venture, constantly reviewed and free to all, already has a strong worldwide following. Bahr’s version, presented with little explanation, can be surprising - not least his division of the IOC’s Calidris into seven genera. It might, perhaps, represent better science but I suspect that few ornithologists will rush to adopt such an unfamiliar approach.