Working for birds in Africa

Swifts - A guide to the swifts and treeswifts of the world

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 14:09 -- abc_admin
Phil Chantler and Gerald Driessens, 1995. Pica Press, East Sussex. ISBN 1-873403-313-3. 237 pp, 170x245 mm, hardback.
pages 54-55

For everyone, swifts surely pose some of the most difficult field identification problems. Nothing can be more taxing and frustrating than to have a flock of uniform all-brown swifts at varying heights above you. This excellent guide sets out to provide as much information as is available to help resolve the identification problems we all face at one time or another with this challenging group.

The first 33 pages of the book comprise a number of short introductory chapters that present an overview of swift biology and behaviour. These chapters cover:

  • Taxonomic Relationships; highlights some of the taxonomic problems within the order Apodiformes. In addition, the relationships and species limits of each genus are dealt with individually.
  • Breeding Behaviour; presents a broad overview of mate selection, displays, incubation, fledgling growth rates, special adaptations to environment extremes and breeding seasons.
  • Feeding and Ecological Separation; summarises feeding behaviour and diet, with the emphasis on prey size and selection, and the effect these factors have on ecological separation. Mortality and Predators; offers a discussion of the main causes of swift mortality, both as a result of direct predation as well as by indirect factors.
  • Moult; while still imperfectly known for many swift genera, the authors give a brief summary of present knowledge.
  • Flight; highlights the special adaptations to flight, so characteristic of the order Apodiformes.
  • Conservation; the authors present some of the problems concerning swift conservation including the over-harvesting of swiftlet nests in Asia. The status of the rarer species is also discussed here.
  • Undescribed Species; with no less than ten species of swift having been described to science in the last 50 years, it is quite likely that others remain undiscovered.
  • Watching Swifts; to conclude these short introductory chapters the authors present some useful hints for observing swifts, together with a number of potential identification pitfalls and topography charts.

The 24 plates, 96 species accounts and maps make up the bulk of the book (187 pp), followed by a comprehensive bibliography and indexes. The excellent species accounts cover in detail general identification of the species, distribution, movements, habitat, plumage description of adults and juveniles (including specimen measurements), geographical variation (races), voice, habits, breeding, and end with a list of all known references to each species. The plates are well presented showing all in flight from both above and below, while the maps clearly indicate breeding, wintering and resident ranges. In addition there are a number of black and white line drawings to illustrate specific features mentioned in the text and to supplement the plates.

Altogether I found it an enthralling and most informative book, and certainly one I'll be referring to on numerous occasions. It summarises in one volume all that is currently known and published on both the Apodidae and Hemiprocnidae, and is an essential addition to every ornithological library. All readers will I'm sure join with me in giving heartiest congratulations to both the authors and publishers for this excellent guide.

Don Turner

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