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10,000 Birds Birds of Central America: A Field Guide Review

10,000 Birds Birds of Central America: A Field Guide Review

One area information, seven nations. It truly makes quite a bit of sense, the geographic options of the isthmus between North America (together with Mexico, as a result of Mexico is a component of North America) and South America reduce throughout political strains, as do birds. Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rican, and Panama, simply revealed in October, is a area information that was ten years within the making. It’s distinctive in two main methods. It’s the first hen subject information to each nation of Central America (plus the islands ruled by these nations). And, its lovely illustrations are by a single artist, Dale Dyer–the norm in years previous, however a function that few area information tasks can afford in phrases of money and time today. Masking 1,261 species with knowledge and taxonomy present as much as August 2017, the sector information is an thrilling achievement. Reviewing it additionally introduced up some questions, which can be explored all through this evaluation.

Some of our most iconic, lovely birds are situated in Central America:  Resplendent Quetzal, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Fiery-billed Aracari, Lengthy-tailed Silky-flycatcher, and, of course, hummingbirds—Snowcap, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Honduran Emerald, White-belled Mountain-gem—an extended listing of jeweled creatures. And, then there are the extra acquainted birds–Wooden-warblers, sandpipers, hawks–some species migrants, some species with a variety. The information covers the all–1194 species within the Species Accounts, together with 959 native breeding species, 219 Nearctic migrants, eight breeding visiting species, and 5 launched species. As well as, 67 species are listed in a chapter entitled “Marginal, Dubious, and Hypothetical Species.” Of the native breeding species, 112 are endemic or “very nearly endemic.” (Are you able to guess which of the species cited above are endemic? Solutions under.*)


The Species Accounts part takes up the physique of the ebook, and is organized taxonomically in response to the AOU Verify-list of North American Birds, Guidelines & Dietary supplements via 2017 (with a small quantity of exceptions, the Introduction notes). Inside households, the species are organized much less taxonomically and extra in keeping with “design and space considerations,” (Introduction), and on the plates themselves, species are organized to facilitate comparability. Textual content is on the left, plates are on the fitting. Every unfold (textual content and plate) is prefaced with the names of the household (widespread and scientific names, e.g., ‘Parrots Psittacidae’) and a 1-Four line paragraph summarizing widespread identification options and distribution. These introductory texts develop into extra particular when there are a number of spreads for giant chook households, like ‘Gulls Laridae.’ So, we study that the gulls in a single grouping are all uncommon, and the gulls in one other grouping are half of a “large, cosmopolitan group,” that have to be recognized by means of learning construction, upper-wing sample, and head sample.


Every species is described succinctly, beginning with widespread and scientific identify and measurements. Helpfully, vary for the world, not simply Central America, is given originally of the second line of the Description, two-letter abbreviations for the areas the place the species is discovered (ex: CA and north SA, South MX and CA, and I’ve so as to add that it took me a minute to understand that CA meant Central America and never California) and a notation if the species is endemic. That is adopted by abundance notations, denoting if the hen is ample, widespread, unusual, and so forth. and the place it’s almost certainly to be discovered–Pacific, Caribbean, particular islands, lowlands, foothills, with altitudes given for the latter.

Subsequent are the Identification (ID), Geographic Variation (GV), Habits, and Voice sections. “Identification” particulars plumage and structural traits needed for identification, with an important traits italicized. Descriptions are principally in layman’s language, however sometimes make the most of technical phrases for chook anatomy, resembling ‘retrices’ and ‘auriculars.’ (There’s a chook topography web page within the Introduction indicating the place these elements are discovered, however the phrases aren’t half of the Glossary within the again of the e-book.) Comparable species are famous.

“Geographic Variation,” succinctly describes, with corresponding illustrations, varieties which are distinct subspecies and varieties which might be consultant of a number of subspecies–therefore the time period ‘geographic variation.’ Not each species has a GV part, and the quantity of description allotted in every part varies from a quick notation on colour variations (most species) to the uncertainty of how voice variations pertains to shade morphs (Vermiculated Screech-Owl).  I like to recommend you learn the Introduction for the authors’ description of the lengthy course of used to find out which geographic variants to explain and illustrate.

The “Habit” part covers habitat (from scrub to elfin forest to pelagic waters), social habits (solitary or with a flock), flight fashion (principally for hawks), and different behaviors (foraging or probing conduct, whether or not or not it follows combined flocks, skulking conduct). These descriptions are notably good for antbirds and associated species. “Voice” consists of descriptions and transcriptions of calls and different vocalizations, with notes of comparable calls.


Every species account is accompanied by a variety map, devised by the authors based mostly on historic and present knowledge and stories. Three totally different primary maps are utilized: all of Central America (for many species accounts), northern Central America, and southern Central America. All maps present political boundaries, however not nation names. I want the ebook designers had included a map with names of nations and main geographic options on one of the within covers (that are clean). A crucial various in case you are geographically challenged like me, is to tab the pages of the Introduction that provide political maps (p. 11) and bodily maps (p.20). The vary map colours are totally different from the norm, utilizing inexperienced for ‘breeding visitor,’ brown for ‘winter resident,’ tan for ‘transient.’ The system does make sense, if you consider it, although personally I want blue for something winter-related. Symbols point out ‘local breeding resident,’ vagrant document, historic document, and ‘uncertain distribution.’

Carlos Sanchez has identified to me that the vary maps for Turquoise-browed Motmot and Blue-throated Motmot have been flipped. It’s a puzzle. The map positioned subsequent to Turquoise-browed Motmot is certainly the map for Blue-throated Motmot (I checked each Neotropical Birds and Handbook of the Birds of the World web site). The second map, the one adjoining to Blue-throated Motmot, doesn’t precisely match different maps for Turquoise-browed Motmot. It exhibits a a lot larger vary. So, I’m unsure if this a one-for-one flip, and the map for Turquoise-browed Motmot was meant to show new vary knowledge, or if one thing else occurred. The species accounts and maps are the final two are within the illustration under (apologies for the fuzzy scanning, compressing the pixels just isn’t good for textual content.)

At any fee, this can be a comparatively critical error since Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of the must-see birds of Central America, and this species account is more likely to be consulted by many customers. I’m hoping the authors and Princeton College will add a corrected web page to their web site that customers can obtain, or, even higher, add an errata web page to all books presently being bought (I do know that’s an costly proposition). I’ve finished a random examine of different species accounts and may’t discover some other errors (which isn’t to say that some gained’t be noticed, I do know that’s a pastime of some area information fanatics, and when a e-book consists of tens of hundreds of tiny particular particulars it’s exhausting to not have an error or two or three, and I can’t think about reality checking a subject information and staying sane).


Illustrations face the textual content pages. All illustrations are by Dale Dyer, a fowl illustrator who has contributed illustrations to a number of subject guides and different ornithological publications, together with Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil (CUP, 2016), Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Atlantic Forest of Southeast Brazil (CUP, 2016), A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (CUP, 2012), Birds of Peru, rev. & up to date (PUP, 2010); you’ll find a full listing of his publications and itemizing of quantity of plates contributed on Dyer’s site. Dyer is a area affiliate within the Division of Ornithology on the American Museum of Pure Historical past, as is co-author Andrew C. Vallely. He talks about how he approaches chook illustration in an article on the Princeton College Press website, and it’s value studying to get a way of how a lot work has gone into these pictures. Right here is an excerpt:

A area information is a portrait of the biodiversity of a area. When the illustrations are designed properly, and mixed with correct vary maps, biogeographic patterns emerge with particular readability. Thorough evaluation of fowl specimens from throughout Central America, in addition to a evaluate of ornithological literature, is what provides me an understanding of what must be stated, and evokes me to get to the drafting board.

The one method to research geographic variation in a species is by putting specimens from far aside locations aspect by aspect. A nice assortment like that on the AMNH provides one a chance to review species and species relationships in a method that watching birds within the area can’t. However, it crucial to mix area expertise with museum expertise to create a vivid and correct picture of a species.

You will get a way of what number of specimens Dyer studied by the quantity of establishments used to acquire specimens listed within the Acknowledgments part, in addition to the listing of ornithologists, fowl illustrators, and others who shared pictures and unpublished info.

The pictures are giant and punctiliously drawn, with web page backgrounds of various shades of brown and grey. And, they  are merely lovely. Nice care has been taken to painting the feather texture and tones of colour of every species, using, I assume, watercolor/gouache technique utilized in his different work.  Wooden-quail are drawn pausing on brown leaves. Passerines are proven perched on a department or tree in a consultant posture, Treerunners gripping their branches upside-down, Woodcreepers virtually vertical on their timber. There are some ‘behavioral vignettes’–a Sunbittern displaying its colours, a Montezuma Oropenola nesting colony–and I want there had been area for extra. The plates might be fairly crowded or splendidly spacious, relying on the quantity of species being portrayed (six on the most, however often three or 4).

I’ve uploaded a quantity of plate photographs to offer you an concept of the standard of the artwork and the alternatives that have been made in plumage and posture. Pictures of every species are grouped collectively, with the brightest coloured fowl, often the grownup male, on the far proper, and duller plumages–feminine and immature–to the left. Geographic variants are positioned in preparations that mirror their geographic relationships, with northern variants on the highest, western to the left, and so forth.  Photographs on the identical plate are drawn to scale, and the size proportion is indicated on the higher right-hand nook. Exceptions are photographs of birds in flight and behavioral vignettes, that are smaller. I want the flight pictures for the hawks, falcons, parakeets, and parrots have been bigger.  Textual content is restricted to species widespread identify, symbols for female and male, abbreviations for immature and grownup, the place needed, and for geographic variations. The authors emphasize within the Introduction that there’s nice variation in hen plumage, and that they’ve chosen these plumages which might be most consultant of the species, and which “allow the user to understand the full range of the species’ appearance” (p. 18).

I used to be initially struck by the colour tones of the illustrations, particularly these of the shorebirds, owls, and a few of the hawk and tanager species. I assumed they have been too mild; I regularly had the urge to press a pc key to darken the tone, as one does in Photoshop. I contacted Princeton College Press to ensure I hadn’t acquired an aberrant copy, they usually very kindly despatched me one other quantity, noting that the illustrations appeared to match the ultimate information despatched to the printer. The colour tones have been the identical as my unique copy. I contacted individuals I knew who had acquired copies of the ebook, they usually replied that some of the pictures have been a bit mild, however general they thought they have been correct. So–was the issue me? Have I gotten too used to avian photographs on the internet which are maybe just a little over-saturated? Am I analyzing subject guides in mild that’s too uninteresting or too brilliant? Do I want new glasses?

So, I did some visible comparisons. The 2 plates above are each by Dale Dyer. The one on the left is from the ebook being reviewed right here, Birds of Central America, and the plate on the proper is from Birds of Peru. Examine the pictures of Blue-gray Tanager. The pictures on the appropriate, from the Peru area information, are extra intense in colour. However, wait! The image will get difficult. Dyer has a special tanager plate on his private site, noting that these are the unique plates and that the pictures have been reformatted by the writer for a special e-book design. Is it potential that the writer additionally modified the colour? As a result of the unique Blue-gray Tanager photographs are a lot lighter, extra according to the pictures within the Central America e-book (I’ve linked to the unpublished pictures as a result of I’m unsure of the copyright points.)

Subsequent, I checked out Blue-gray Tanager as illustrated in two basic subject guides: on the left, we’ve got a plate from The Birds of South America, painted by Man Tudor; on the fitting, a plate from A Guide to The Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, painted by Sophie Webb. I feel it’s fairly straightforward to select Blue-gray Tanager, however, simply in case, it’s quantity 11 within the Tudor illustration (quantity 12 is the look-alike Sayaca Tanager), and quantity 2 within the Webb illustration. I want to notice that each one 4 pages have been scanned with the identical scanner and never edited in any respect, except for sizing, by Photoshop. So, what do you assume? Is the Blue-gray Tanager, because it seems in Birds of Central America, too mild? Or, are the tones just like the birds’ depiction by two masters of Neotropical fowl illustration?

On this particular case, I’ve to go together with the latter. Nevertheless, I do assume that there are illustrations right here that endure from washed-out blacks and whites that nearly mix into the background. Examine the Jabiru under to the Jabiru within the Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd ed. (the second run, with the corrected coloring), and also you’ll see a chook with a a lot darker head.  The distinction in tone is sufficient to make a marked distinction is how we recognize the hen, one picture is mildly fascinating, the opposite picture is putting and distinctive.



The information’s Introduction covers the scope and plan of the e-book, together with a diagram of ‘bird topography’ and full descriptions of habitat phrases. I want, as I typically do, that the authors had included the story of the event of the ebook; there are hints in these sections and the Acknowledgments of the onerous work, strategic selections, and lots of journeys concerned. There’s additionally a 7-page part on the Geography of Central America, overlaying the geography of the subregions that largely decide Central America’s distribution of birds and different types of life. That is properly value studying, because the regional descriptions embrace endemic and range-restricted species in addition to fauna, local weather, and up to date developments.

Again-of-the-E-book sections are Marginal, Doubtful and Hypothetical Species, Taxonomic Notes, Glossary, Bibliography, and Index. The Marginal part could be very temporary, citing vagrants which were reported or collected or photographed a few times. Readers are referred to articles from the bibliography for extra info. The Glossary can also be temporary, giving definitions of scientific and ornithological phrases used within the Introduction and Species Accounts, like “allopatric” and “endemic.” It doesn’t, as I famous above, embrace fowl anatomy phrases.

The Bibliography lists 677 articles and books, principally articles, from ornithological literature, a document of the analysis that went into this quantity. The Index tells us the place to seek out species by scientific and customary names, alphabetically, with scientific names italicized. Widespread names are listed by the key half of the identify, adopted by descriptor; for instance, Flycatcher–Tufted. Each genus names and species names are listed. There’s additionally a Quick Index on the within of the back and front covers (truly on folded-in extensions of the back and front covers), itemizing hen households alphabetically. That is very useful, as a result of in case you’re not conversant in the order (what some birders may name the whimsical or capricious order) of the present taxonomic order, and in case you don’t know the precise identify of the chook you need to lookup, then you definitely’re misplaced. I might have appreciated much more discovering aids, similar to a visible index or coloured tabs on the sides of the species accounts.


That is the primary area information to birds of all of the nations of Central America, however there are different subject guides to the world and the birder about to journey to at least one or two of these nations could have some decisions to make. First of all, there are the classics, cited within the Introduction as essential assets and fashions for the authors:  A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch (Cornell Univ. Press, 1989); A Guide to the Birds to the Birds of Panama, with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras, 2nd ed., by Robert S. Ridgely and John A. Gwynne (PUP, 1992); and A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America by Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb (Oxford Univ. Press, 1995). These are extra reference sources than area guides; the titles are complete, heavy, and, in some instances, multi-volume (although I do know many a birder who has lugged Howell & Webb of their suitcase). They’re additionally out-of-date in phrases of taxonomy and distribution.

There are excellent to excellent nation area guides, most notably The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide by George R. Angehr, and Dean, Robert (Cornell Univ. Press, 2010), The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, 2nd Richard Garrigues ands Robert Dean (Cornell Univ. Press, 2014); and Guide to the Birds of Honduras by Robert J. Gallardo (2015). Birds of Nicaragua: A Field Guide by Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, David C Hille, and Robert Dean has just lately been revealed by Cornell Univ. Press and Birds of Belize by H. Lee Jones and Dana Gardner was revealed by Univ. of Texas Press in 2013 (I haven’t examined both title). There are not any hen guides for El Salvador or Guatemala. However, there’s the superb Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America: Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras by Jesse Fagan and Oliver Komar, with illustrations by Robert Dean  and Peter Burke, revealed in 2016.

Some options to think about: Birds of Central America is an enormous guide. It weighs three kilos and is about half-an-inch much less in peak and a quarter-on-an-inch wider than the large Sibley’s. It’s a subject information that’s robust to hold about within the subject. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America is small and lightweight, extraordinarily moveable. The nation guides that I’ve used or reviewed–Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras–vary in-between these extremes, with Costa Rica being the smallest and lightest and Honduras being virtually as giant, although not as heavy, as Birds of Central America. I really feel like I want so as to add that Birds of Central America can also be out there in a Kindle version, which brings up an entire different sort of choice!

Timeliness of info: Birds of Central America and Peterson are each present, incorporating taxonomic modifications of the previous few years. Birds of Central America is, of course, extra present than Peterson, however each incorporate the most important taxonomic splits of 2016. The older area guides don’t. It’s essential to take into consideration how essential it’s to you to know in case you are taking a look at Blue-crowned Motmot or one of the 2 Central American species (out of 5) cut up off from that species in 2016.

High quality and group of paintings are additionally main issues. Gallardo’s Honduras information is old-school, with plates separate from descriptive textual content. Illustrations are by three totally different artists. Peterson, Costa Rica, and Panama all share Robert Dean as chief illustrator. Dean’s type is crisp, exact, and deeply coloured. Dyer’s pictures are painterly, delicately shaded, and delicately coloured. The preferences listed here are private–which fashion is simpler to review, which photographs greatest show important identification options, which illustrations convey you pleasure?


Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rican, and Panama is a area/identification information by Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer, two museum-based ornithologists, that units a excessive bar for high quality of info and illustration and creates a very good case for learning birds by geographic, not political, boundaries. I’ve mentioned two reservations concerning the information–the visible tonal high quality and the Motmot map error–however these shouldn’t detract from the information’s general excellence. Its contents are a synthesis of over 600 articles on Neotropical birds. The illustrations of 1194 species in consultant plumages are based mostly on the research of species within the subject and skins in museums; illustration design is rigorously thought out and uniform. The e-book’s weight makes it actually extra of an identification information than a subject information, however the different aspect of that weight is that we get properly sized photographs, a font that’s small however distinct and extremely readable, high quality paper that may final, and a sturdy flexi-cover. Skilled birders might keep in mind a time when there have been solely three books on the birds of Central America, none of them subject guides, none masking the entire isthmus. It’s good to have decisions! And, it’s good to have this lovely guide displaying so many lovely birds, which I hope most of you will have seen or will see within the close to future.


*Of the birds cited above, Fiery Aracari, Lengthy-tailed Silky-flycatcher, and the hummers are all endemics; the Resplendent Quetzal and Turquoise-browed Motmot are additionally present in southern Mexico.

Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Princeton Field Guides collection)
by Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer
Princeton College Press, Oct. 2018,  584 pp., 6.5 x 2.2 x 9 inches
ISBN-10: 0691138028; ISBN-13: 978-0691138022
$49.50 (reductions from the standard suspects)
Kindle: $30.46
E-book:  ISBN  9780691184159

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