Working for birds in Africa

Shrikes. A Guide to the Shrikes of the World

Fri, 28/12/2012 - 14:48 -- abc_admin
Norbert Lefranc and Tim Worfolk. 1997. 192 pp, 16 colour plates, 23 line drawing and 33 maps. Pica Press, The Banks, Mountfield, Nr. Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5JY. UK£25.00.
pages 64 - 65

This latest offering from Pica Press is typically very well-produced and follows a similar format to those of previous volumes in the series. The usual introductory chapters include a discussion of the taxonomy and relationships of the helmet-shrikes, bush-shrikes, 'true shrikes' and Bornean Bristlehead, and provide a justification for the decision to restrict the scope of the book to the Laniidae. With the exception of the recent elevation of Lanius meridionalis to species status, the taxonomy follows that of Sibley & Monroe. However, I feel that the decision to treat just the three genera comprising the Laniidae is something of a missed opportunity, since the helmet-shrikes, bush-shrikes and Bornean Bristlehead all share common morphological features with the true shrikes and the book would have surely been of greater use to its audience, and in particular to readers of this journal, had the additional families been covered. A fascinating overview of the genus Lanius covers such varied topics as names, morphology, plumages and moult, origins, distribution and migration, habitats, social organisation, foraging behaviour, breeding biology, food, aspects of population dynamcs and conservation. Overviews of Corvinella and Eurocephalus are much briefer totalling less than a page each and presumably reflects a reduced level of knowledge about these groups. The colour plates are all of the high standard now expected in publications such as this. For most species the adult males are well illustrated with many races depicted. It is, however, a little disappointing to find that for most species just one race is illustrated in immature plumage and female plumage. The main bulk of the book comprises the species accounts. These vary from approximately three-quarters of a page for little-known species such as Uhehe Fiscal Lanius marwitzi to over eight pages for better known and more thoroughly studied species such as Great Grey Shrike L. excubitor. The accounts are clear, well-written and as far as I can tell, generally accurate. In a book covering just 30 species, I would have preferred to see even greater depth entered into, rather than just listing references where the reader could delve further. Areas where there are gaps in our knowledge are pointed out and should enable future researchers to target their work where more can be learned. Earlier volumes in this series suffered from some difficult to understand distribution maps: those included here are easy to interpret. The maps showing the distribution of the various races for species such as Great Grey Shrike, for example, are very clear and easy to understand. Despite the fact that I am left with the feeling that an opportunity has been missed to extend the scope and increase the depth of coverage, this is nevertheless a very well-produced book that many people will wish to own.

Chris Bradshaw

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