Vol 8 of this series represents a significant milestone, being the first of the volumes dealing with the passerines, the largest of the avian orders, containing roughly 60% of the world's bird species. As we have come to expect, HBW8 is superbly produced and packed cover to cover with stunning photographs, superb plates and authoritative family and species accounts. Indeed, this volume contains the most colour plates and photographs so far in the series. Appropriately, the first volume of the Passeriformes is prefaced by Murray Bruce's comprehensive and readable account of the history of bird taxonomy, from Aristotle's first attempts in 384 - 322 BC through to Charles Sibley's pioneering DNA hybridisation work from the 1970s.
The present volume covers broadbills to tapaculos, including the pittas, a family which has entranced birders for decades, and has a distinct Neotropical bias with three quarters of the volume dedicated to the ovenbirds, woodcreepers, antbirds, gnateaters and tapaculos. However, of particular interest to ABC members will be the accounts of the asities, one of Madagascar's endemic families, and the broadbills and pittas, both of which have African representatives.
Each family account begins with a detailed introduction covering systematics, morphology, habits, voice, feeding and breeding ecology, and status and conservation, and is lavishly illustrated by top-quality photographs, many of which were taken especially for the series. In response to requests from reviewers of previous volumes, photograph captions now have English names highlighted in bold and all photographs are referenced in the index.
Following the family introduction are the species accounts, accompanied by superbly illustrated plates by renowned artists including Ian Lewington, Chris Rose, Hilary Burn and Tim Worfolk. All too often, different artistic styles in one volume detract from otherwise excellent books and field guides. No such problems here I'm pleased to say!
The species accounts are remarkably detailed given the limitations of space, although the font size is considerably reduced to permit the inclusion of maximum text. Each account summarises identification features, habitat preferences, feeding and breeding behaviour, migratory habits if relevant, and a summary of the species' conservation status using the most up-to-date information available from BirdLife International. Distribution maps show the breeding, wintering and resident ranges of each species. An improvement on previous volumes is that distribution maps now indicate major rivers, intended to assist the interpretation of ranges of species within large land masses where there are no coastlines to act as reference. A minor grumble is that there is no key to the distribution maps - one must refer back to Vol 1 for these. So, for anyone who doesn't own Vol 1 but may be tempted by Vol 8, yellow maps breeding range, blue wintering and green those areas in which a species is resident.
This aside, HBW8 is a superb book and taking delivery of a new volume is one of the highlights of my birding year. The publishers and editors should be congratulated for maintaining such high standards throughout the series to date.