Open Access
1 April 2003 The Birds of Ecuador, Volume I: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. Volume II: Field Guide
John Rowlett
Author Affiliations +

The following critiques express the opinions of the individual evaluators regarding the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the books they review. As such, the appraisals are subjective assessments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or any official policy of the American Ornithologists' Union.

Robert S. Ridgely and Paul J. Greenfield. 2001. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. Volume I: xvii+848 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-8014-8720-X. $70.00. Volume II: xvii+740 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-8014-8721-8. $50.00. Slipcased two-volume set, $110.— Representing the culmination of a massive amount of research and more than 20 years of data collection to clarify and conserve one of the richest avifaunas on earth, this work stands as a spectacular achievement. Research libraries are duty-bound to shelve it, most Neotropical ornithologists have probably already added it to their core collections, and every serious birder either living in or traveling to Ecuador should carry it—at least part of it. Without question, both volumes are indispensable for all students of Ecuadorian birds. Available in a boxed set or individually, each volume is approximately the size of Hilty and Brown's Birds of Colombia (1986), with volume I serving as a reference and volume II serving, nominally, as a field guide.

When faced with the problem of producing a work covering such a vast array of species (nearly 1,600), the authors wisely decided on writing two books, thinking that would silence those critics who demand a volume that is both comprehensive and portable. They have arrived at a novel compromise that will more than do but is less than ideal. Does the format problem lie in an unreasonable demand for portability in the field or in the conception of authors? Perhaps a second edition—and surely there will be one for what shall long reign as the definitive work—will profit from the pesky criticisms of those readers and users and from the model of other works on avifaunas yet to come.

Volume I provides—in relaxed, conversational prose—information on the status and distribution of each species in Ecuador, a taxonomic discussion, where pertinent, of all relevant taxa occurring in Ecuador (with few exceptions), rationales for the authors' changing of English names (a preoccupation of the senior author), and each species' world range. This delightful volume also includes a valuable gazetteer (complete with coordinates) and a passionate conservation section. The gazetteer is not intended to replace Paynter (1993); rather it builds on it, chiefly citing localities that provide the post-1960 distributional data for the volume. The conservation status of each threatened species is given additional coverage in the text, and all the subspecies known to occur in Ecuador are noted, making this volume a baseline for future research, as well as a useful conservation tool. The primary accomplishment of volume I is that it constitutes the best treatment of distribution—at both species and subspecies level—for any South American country. It is truly extraordinary. For the minority of ornithologists who have years of experience in Ecuador, and for those making a study of the avifauna, this volume will be the more exciting and the one consulted the more often. Yet far more than a tome to consult, it is a genuine pleasure to read. Due to the inevitable amassing of data—indeed this work will stimulate its further accumulation—this is the volume that will age more quickly, its historical nature becoming more evident as time passes. Even so, the naturalist's pleasures of its presentation will remain open for a long time to come, not unavailable to future readers.

Among the bemusing pleasures for Spanish readers will be the numerous bird names that have been coined by the authors and their collaborators in a noble effort to standardize Spanish names throughout South America. Whereas this may be welcome in many quarters, local traditions are likely to frustrate systemization for the time being. What's more, assigning Spanish names is no substitute for a Spanish rendering of the text itself (one can only hope that a translation is in the works) and for scientific names when referring to bird taxa cross-culturally. The authors would no doubt agree with this but would stress the hope that Spanish names will make the volumes more appealing to a popular audience.

Both Spanish and English readers unfamiliar with what to expect taxonomically will find a plethora of surprises among the bird names (both scientific and English) from doves and trogons to warblers. The authors clearly state the reasons for their judgments, even though some are arbitrary and no empirical data are presented. Many are not based on previously published papers. That raises a procedural dilemma for any author treating a complex avifauna. He or she knows that published research often is insufficient or lacking altogether to support a particular taxonomic opinion, research that would yield precise data—the exact specimen skins, tissue samples, specimen recordings, localities, history of the issue—whose analysis has been peer-reviewed and is subject to evaluation by others. In other words, insufficient, perhaps inadequate, research has been conducted to warrant splitting (or lumping) taxa. Yet the authors—no strict taxonomists themselves—are forced to make a taxonomic judgment that will affect how the taxa are treated in their book. They can recognize the discipline's trends; they may well participate in setting them. When the trend is elevating named, subordinate taxa to species level, as it is nowadays, does one treat, for example, trans-Andean Geotrygon purpurata as a subspecies of cis-Andean G. saphirina, or as a full species? Ridgely elects (and it is the senior author here who is governing the calls) to elevate the taxon to species status “based on several striking plumage differences and its disjunct range.” Those same differences were apparent to Baptista et al. (1997) when they treated the taxa in their account of Columbiformes, yet they chose to conclude “race purpurata may represent distinct species;” “not globally threatened… extensive research required.” It should be noted here that Ridgely's decision permits him to conclude “deserves Vulnerable status on the basis of its limited range and dependence on primary forest habitat… The species was not mentioned by Collar et al. (1992, 1994), probably because of the difference in the taxonomy they employed.” That implies that one reason for the trend toward splitting is its conservation-based value: subspecies have little or no status with most policy-makers; species garner money and attention. Is the urgency of conservation goals driving taxonomic decisions from the scientific paper to the popular handbook?

The aim here is not to take issue with Ridgely's taxonomic decisions. I simply want to call attention to some aspects of his procedure for reaching those decisions that academic ornithologists may find troubling. Ridgely is prepared to regard certain, selected subspecies as distinct allospecies in one genre (the reference handbook) whose authority originates with the author of the work, whereas established practice for some two decades—for very good reasons—has increasingly relegated that act to another genre (the scientific paper) whose authority is established through a peer-refereed process. In the example of Geotrygon, that is the case in spite of the fact that his result constitutes a departure from the recent monographic treatment of Columbiformes by his peers. But who can blame him? Those authors themselves, as well as all Handbook of the Birds of the World authors right up to the present, have been given surprisingly free reign over taxonomy, and many have introduced novel arrangements based on nothing that can be evaluated. Omitted is any mention whatsoever of Baptista et al. in the Geotrygon account, and the Handbook of the Birds of the World treatment of Columbiformes does not appear in the bibliography. What is to keep taxonomic issues from becoming a handbook-to-handbook free-for-all?

Let there be no misunderstanding: Bob Ridgely is one of the most knowledgeable students of Neotropical ornithology we have, so one unhesitatingly grants him informed views about the taxa he is treating in Ecuador. (Do not be misled by the rhetorical “we”.) But is his manual on the avifauna of the country the appropriate venue for him to air his views? Perhaps so, but some taxonomists, conservationists, and field birders may find that unsettling as a practice. Prior to the work under review, the two disparate models for dealing with taxonomic quandaries when treating a large Neotropical avifauna can be represented by Hilty and Brown (1986) and Howell and Webb (1995), both admirable studies. The former stayed within then-current taxonomy, pointing out significant differences where they noted them, whereas the latter introduced a number of dubious and unsupported taxonomic alterations. If others are emboldened to hold up The Birds of Ecuador as a model, we may be in for a long period of splintering as each author of a country's avifauna, bypassing peer-review, authorizes prejudicial judgments in his own work.

The Geotrygon example is one of many similar instances where taxonomic decisions are made by the handbook taxonomist. After a synopsis of the biological species concept (BSC) and the phylogenetic species concept (PSC) in his opening statements about taxonomy—and after briefly indicating how those raise theoretical problems in dealing with the same evidence on one hand, foregrounding different evidence on the other—Ridgely admits,

All this poses problems for the practicing taxonomist…. We have attempted to steer a course to the proverbial “middle ground” of this ongoing taxonomic debate on species-level relationships. Our basic approach has been to follow the BSC but to place somewhat more emphasis on population-level differences than similarities. The effective result has been to split some species when the evidence appears to support the likelihood that the populations would not interbreed were they to come into contact.

I understand the problems posed for evidence by incommensurable concepts, but is not Ridgely, in explaining the rationale for his dealing with the problems left open by the theoretical issues, asking for special treatment by expecting the scientific community to accept the findings he, as author, has chosen to advocate? If the guideline is to apply the BSC to disjunct (allopatric) populations on the basis of some hunch that they are sufficiently different so that interbreeding is unlikely, then the range disjunction (however radical) cannot be used as one of the parameters (“based on several striking plumage differences and its disjunct range”); all the examples are allopatric by definition, and that has nothing to do with whether they might interbreed should they come in contact. Stipulating distinctive plumages or voices or behaviors is, of course, entirely legitimate (and their potential importance should always be pointed out); but it is without teeth, because we are given no idea what constitutes even a working concept of difference and certainly no basis for measuring degree of difference. Where are the objective criteria? Or, what criteria might be built into a concept of difference that would permit some objectivity? These are questions of procedural consistency and need not wait on a comprehensive theory. Even so, they cannot be answered adequately by the practicing taxonomist; rather those are matters to be attended to collaboratively by the practicing taxonomic body—the South American Check-list Committee of the AOU, of which Ridgely is a respected member.

These comments are not meant to critique the accepted practice of an author's decision to follow one authority as opposed to another when the inherited taxonomic view is itself split. Exemplary here is Ridgely's treatment of Furnarius torridus (Bay Hornero) in which he elects to follow data he finds persuasive, detailed data previously vetted by peer-review:

Torridus has sometimes been considered as only a dark morph of F. leucopus (e.g., Vaurie 1980), but we follow J. T. Zimmer (Am. Mus. Novitates 860, 1936) in considering it a full species. Recent data from ne. Peru supports this; see, e.g., G. H. Rosenberg (Condor 92[2]: 427-443, 1990).

This accepted practice is not, however, without its pitfalls. One amusing example can be found in the taxonomic section under Hirundinea ferruginea (Cliff Flycatcher):

It has been suggested (e.g., Sibley and Monroe 1990) that it may be more appropriate to recognize two species of cliff-flycatchers, H. ferruginea (Northern Cliff-Flycatcher) and H. bellicosa (Southern Cliff-Flycatcher), but we conclude that the evidence to do so is not persuasive.

If we examine Sibley and Monroe (1990), we find the following remark under H. bellicosa: “Often treated as conspecific with H. ferruginea but appears to be a distinct species (R. Ridgely, pers. comm.)”! There is hilarity in this innocent circularity, but it is also misleading—misleading in a way that would not have been the case had the initial taxonomic verdict rested on the evidence in a peer-reviewed paper rather than on the no-telling-what of personal communication. This is no selective example; indeed it is a characteristic of the author's procedures. However, usually the author agrees with himself.

A variation on this circularity is Ridgely's self-citation of unrefereed work. That circuitous practice is another procedure all too widespread in recent literature. Because, in the authors' taxonomic introduction, Ridgely has summarily invoked the slippery middle ground on which he and his collaborators are predisposed toward making trans-Andean splits, I suspect he is simply trying to proceed properly. He is, after all, writing as much for the birdwatcher and conservationist as for the professional ornithologist, and he is writing at a time when, as he acknowledges, there has been “recent ‘turmoil’ in the higher taxonomic realm of the Class Aves,” including, indeed, “a good deal of controversy concerning what actually constitutes a species.” But he should recognize that explicitly citing his own unrefereed verdict in a previous work might strike the reader as self-serving. There are many instances of this explicit self-citation through volume I, but notice the taxonomic section under Conopias parva (Yellow-throated Flycatcher). It reads, “We regard C. parva of Amazonia as a species separate from trans-Andean C. albovittata (White-ringed Flycatcher) based on its different voice, plumage, and highly disjunct distribution; this follows Sibley and Monroe (1990) and Ridgely and Tudor (1994).” Now this self-citation is at once explicit and hidden, for in Sibley and Monroe (1990) we find another personal communication from Ridgely whom they offer as the authority for their own taxonomic verdict. It is not surprising that Monroe, in preparing his work, would consult Ridgely about how the latter was about to treat a taxonomic issue in his forthcoming handbook (1994). Yet what emerges in the Conopias example is a tendency to self-cite under what amounts to the guise of citing another author.

Ornithologists and conservationists alike, I submit, need empirical data supported by clearly stated reasoning that is then subject to independent evaluation on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise we are liable to get more of this circular reinforcement of selective opinion. Many of Ridgely's suggested taxonomic shifts, I suspect, are likely to prove meritorious (certainly his collaborators felt so), but the problem resides in his setting a strong precedent, because he sits in an august position. Others, less well informed (including any number of Handbook of the Birds of the World authors), will be more likely to take license in making their own unsupported marks on the historical tree of avian systematics. Without observing the rigorous demands of formal peer review (not the informal teamwork of project collaborators), the net result will likely be an even less-clear understanding of what constitutes an avian species than we now have. And the consequence of selective opinion in taxonomy could have a negative effect on conservation concerns, because it so destabilizes the context in which conservation agendas function that it may well offer the anti-conservationists grist for their dismissal or ridicule of the enterprise.

Birds' English names have long been an absorbing interest of the senior author, and we can see that interest at play in these volumes as well. The senior author's tendency is to modify English names that for some reason seem inaccurate or indiscriminate. He objects, for example, to “redstart” in his account of Slate-throated Whitestart (Myioborus miniatus) because the “long-used but misleading group name” is inaccurate: Myioborus have only white, no red, in the staart (Old German for tail). Here he follows Curson et al. (1994) and others. But in Ridgely and Tudor (1989), the authors felt that, despite the misleading inaccuracy, “the name ‘redstart’ is simply too well entrenched to be changed at this late date.” Dunn and Garrett (1997), dismissing the argument for technical accuracy, agreed and followed suit, as did the seventh edition (1998) of the AOU's Check-list of North American Birds (1983). Now, some 13 years after his persuasive argument on the grounds of name stability, Ridgely arbitrarily replaces it without introducing any reason for doing so that was unavailable to him in 1989. Miniatus was named for behavioral and structural affinities to Setophaga ruticilla rather than misnamed due to some confusion about the etymology behind “redstart.” Swainson's type description (1827) placed it in Setophaga; and, although miniatus and its congeners are now deemed not so tightly related to Setophaga, they do belong, after all, to the Parulidae. When miniatus was given a common name, it was logical to continue with “redstart,” even though it had no red in the tail. Now that it is referred to a different genus, should the English name be changed? It is not uncommon for one English name to comprise more than one genus. Who today, Dunn and Garrett ask, “commonly associates ‘start’ with the tail” anyway? How long does a name have to be “long-used” before it is immune to alteration by Ridgely—until, as with the antbirds (and heretofore with Myioborus), “the name has stuck”? Should all cotingas be renamed that are called so in English but do not belong to Cotinga? Does each genus deserve a corresponding English name? Most critically, should those kinds of decisions be left to authors of guides and handbooks? I am not suggesting that Ridgely is unaware of the questions; simply that he seems not to have resolved them satisfactorily.

An example of a “vague and unhelpful” name that Ridgely improved upon is Dull-capped Attila (Atilla bolivianus). He had changed this name (Ridgely and Tudor, 1994) to “White-eyed Attila” because “this species' striking white eye is so prominent and unique that we prefer to highlight it in its English name”; he repeats and emphasizes this claim for uniqueness in volume II (both on the plate and in the species account). However, a white iris is not unique to bolivianus in eastern Ecuador. Although eye-color is a generally reliable clue to identifying a nonvocalizing attila, I saw and tape-recorded a white-eyed A. spadiceus (Bright-rumped Attila, rufous morph) on the “Liana Trail” at Sacha Lodge, 19 February 1997 (Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds, catalog #107993). The senior author's initial insistence on the uniqueness of the white iris of bolivianus may have led to the misidentification of a nonvocalizing bird, which he calls a “puzzling record,” at Sacha Lodge, 7 June 1995, “the only report of the species from anywhere north of the Rio Marañon.” This evidence does not nullify the alternative name, but it does invalidate the absolute reasoning behind the proposal. It also suggests that any author's need to defend a replacement name, however welcome, may generate an absolute assertion, unnecessary when the name is replaced by a deliberative committee.

Yet Ridgely is correct, I think, to call attention to the inadequacy of some English names, and he has chosen the right time to do so with Tolmomyias, a genus undergoing widespread study and reconsideration. Ridgely notes as much, reverting to the group name of “flatbill” for all members of the genus, a name in use long ago and one more discriminating than the group name “flycatcher.” But why obscure matters, one might argue to a checklist committee, by calling yet another genus “flatbill” (there are already two) when it would be easy enough to give the group its generic name “tolmomyias”? Most ornithologists and many experienced field birders have long called them that anyway due to the notorious confusion that surrounds their systematics and their identification. And there is much precedent for doing so in attila, piprites, Sapayoa, schiffornis, Neopipo, etc. Here, it seems to me, Ridgely's usual good sense about English renaming has abandoned him.

Moving from common names to commonly used terms, it might seem petty to take exception to the authors' confusing misuse of “extinct” and “extinction”. Yet, if taxonomic decisions have come to be increasingly influenced by conservation priorities, it becomes especially important to use the language of conservation precisely. Those terms appear as part of the “formal ‘at-risk’ categories” used to indicate at-risk species in volume I. In the front matter, after clearly and concisely explaining the difference between the two terms in the first category, “extirpated/extinct,” four of the remaining five category definitions make improper use of the terms: “local extinction” is used in three, and “extinction in Ecuador” in one. This use is in disregard for the clarification offered initially. If, as we are told, “in Ecuador there are four Extirpated species but no Extinct ones,” best not confuse the issue, especially when some could well become extinct over the next few decades. Extinction is forever, and preserving the difference between those two terms helps the public as well as the incipient conservation-ist not forget it.

Both volumes received unsurpassable copyediting, although some typographical errors crept in after the editor's final review (volume I, pp. 374 [line 16], 424 [line 29], 438 [lines 23–24], 501 [line 41], 594 [line 4], 629 [line 8], 714 [line 37]; volume II, p. 421 [line 26]). Nevertheless, to read such a clean production is not only refreshing, it is astonishing.

Cornell University Press is to be congratulated on the quality of binding and covers, both of which are sturdy and promise to hold up longer than most. However nice the boxed set at first appears on your shelf, the volumes are so tightly jammed into the slipcase that it is difficult to remove them. Imagine the difficulty after the swelling of some use! On my shelf, the volumes no longer reside in their box. The substantially lower price for the field guide, although it is slightly thicker and was presumably more expensive to produce, is probably due to the vision of the authors and their desire to see the more popular volume receive general circulation, both for the pleasure of Ecuadorians as well as the conservation aims such knowledge of a country's avifauna promotes.

The main quibble I have with the field guide volume—more “guide” than “field guide”—is that it continues the trend away from genuinely portable guides to books too ponderous to have at the ready; it is not what most would call user-friendly, if portability in the field counts for much. Including habitat, plumage descriptions, habits, and voice, as well as one map per species, it is inevitably large and unwieldy, although the 96 color plates are boldly done. I have already cut out and spiral-bound the plates in my guide so as to make it user-friendly indeed, and rebound the text, so as to in effect have three volumes rather than two. That makes the plates much more portable and useful, especially outside Ecuador. The problem with that, of course, is that one has to do without the maps, which, though not critical outside the country, are one of the best features of volume II. With all the provinces delineated, the two irregular 1,000-m contour lines on either side of the Andes, and two major Amazonian tributaries, they are large enough to be surprisingly informative. Just do not try to make sense of the explanation as to how visually, on the map, boreal and austral migrants are to be differentiated. How, for example, are we to determine—by looking solely at the maps—that Dendroica striata and D. fusca are boreal migrants and that Myiarchus swainsoni is an austral migrant? Whatever was meant there, fortunately the maps and supporting text reinforce each other. Considering Ecuador's complex topography, a lot of thought went in to making these maps reveal what they do. I have found only four that are incorrect: Phaeomyias murina does not occur on Isla Puna as the map indicates; maps for Myiozetetes similis and M. cayanensis are reversed; the map for Xipholena punicea is not in agreement with the text (“still known in Ecuador only from a 1964 specimen”). These are, hands down, the finest maps I have seen in a Neotropical guide.

Perhaps the cost of producing three volumes would have been prohibitive, but one has to wonder about the repetition in plumage descriptions despite good coverage on the pages facing the plates and the conventional but wordy “Similar species” sections, all the more extraneous in such a carefully illustrated guide. What is needed in a field guide is supplementary description of any distinctive, unillustrated plumage and a discriminating similar species section (only when apt) that isolates what species might be confused and states concisely how. The text should work in cooperation with the plate. Consider the treatment of similar species for Dendrocincla tyrannina: “Other Dendrocincla woodcreepers, which are equally plain in appearance, all occur at lower elevations. Montane Woodcreeper is smaller with slender decurved bill and extensively streaked.” But that can be stated more economically: “Congeners, equally plain, occur at lower elevations.” Should Lepidocolaptes lacrymiger, a most unlikely candidate for confusion and introduced presumably due to congruence in elevation, be mentioned at all? Simply look at the plate. To take a boreal migrant, for example, we find under similar species of Dendroica cerulea “Nonbreeding-plumage Blackpoll Warbler is larger with obvious back streaking, olive upperparts (no blue tone), and no superciliary.” How helpful are those points, especially if the bird, which, we are told, “tends to forage in trees high above ground,” is seen from far below? No mention is made of this warbler's short tail—the most abbreviated of all the Dendroica and one of the surest ways to first pick out a Cerulean Warbler high above in the canopy—or of the different undertail pattern, although the tail pattern is well illustrated, especially because many of the tails on the upper half of the plate are clinically turned toward the viewer for closer inspection.

Introducing each family in volume II is a brief account that should be broadly informative, if not essential to field identification. Introducing each genus is another brief, pointed account, isolating characters of the genus that serve to set it apart from other genera (oddly, those generic sketches get repeated in abbreviated fashion on many of the pages facing the plates). Both those accounts are well written, occasionally inspired (see the account for Pipridae, for example), and contribute nicely to the guide. Yet the genus accounts for Aratinga and Pyrrhura, for example, although nicely written, are not properly informative. Aratinga are mostly open-country psittacids, frequenting dry or semihumid woodland with a few in wet, lowland second-growth and river edge; their flight, as first noted by Whitney (1996), is usually above the canopy and without undulation; they roost in large aggregations (not typically in cavities). Pyrrhura are all wet forest and river edge psittacids; their flight is below or through the canopy and with undulation; they roost in small groups in tree cavities. Furthermore, Pyrrhura tails are not all red; rather, the upper tail feathers are green, so that anyone seeing a Pyrrhura from behind or from above (say, from a 50-m canopy tower) is going to see a green tail. Unlike the genus account for Grallaria, to mention one of the many that are well done, those two accounts were given little thought and are of scant value, even misleading.

The concise species descriptions pertain to Ecuadorian taxa, and they are carefully written for the most part. No eye color is described for Grallaria ridgelyi (Jocotoco Antpitta); the plate illustrates a red eye, but the jacket cover shows a sepia eye, exposing the need for verbal descriptions even though the bird is well illustrated. However, these descriptions could have been transferred to volume I. The “Habits” sections are economical and include helpful data for identification. The “Voice” sections are well done, but, as the authors recognize, are no substitute for hearing the sound. Yet there is room for information about voice usually not conveyed on a CD that is valuable to have (song types, seasonality, time of delivery, song perch, behavior associated with song, distinctive call notes, etc.), and that has been included when known. Perhaps the most helpful text for a voice section is how a species' song differs from those of other, similar sounding species, or how some vocalization might suggest another species' in quality. Transcriptions of the song, no matter how skillfully and consistently rendered, take up precious space and are often more useful to the one producing the alphabetized interpretations than to most birders.

How then is one to go about “having it both ways,” namely giving the authors what they want—two volumes—yet giving birders what they need—a truly portable field guide? I respectfully submit the following suggestions: Had the descriptions been included in volume I, had the “Similar Species” sections been tightened (they are often misleading), had the “Voice” sections been included in volume I (except for the most concise and informative remarks), had a code indicated on which published recordings the species could be heard (much as in Clements and Shany [2001] for vocalizations of Peruvian birds), had the type been reduced by one or two points, had the textual description and facing-page redundancy been eliminated and the space on the facing-pages been used fully, had the maps been a trifle reduced (the extra space around them closed up some) it would have been possible, I think, to have produced a true field guide to an immense avifauna, something along the lines of Stevenson and Fanshawe (2002). That would still leave room for the occasional gem inflecting the facing-plate comments, such as that capturing Hoatzin (Opisthocomus) behavior: “Often in groups and typically quite tame, flushing reluctantly, then perching and peering around in evident befuddlement at the source of disturbance, hissing and grunting loudly.” Splendid!

So many of us have learned to look at South American birds through the eyes of Guy Tudor (Birds of Venezuela, Birds of Colombia, and Birds of South America) that becoming accustomed to seeing through the eyes of Paul Greenfield may necessitate our acquiring the taste for it. Given that all artists have their weak suits as well as their strong, it should not be surprising to find Greenfield excelling at the shape and posture of antpittas while missing on antthrushes. Yet the artist's greatest shortcoming is evident in his lack of proportion for many species and some groups. Because his portraits (not on display in this work, but note the Andigena portrait-cover of volume II) do not share that drawback, it may be due to the genre demands of a crowded plate. However, genre limits cannot account for the saturated colors throughout, a treatment fine for gaudy birds but misleading, of course, for modestly attired species. Nevertheless, these plates—for whatever some lack in grace—are generally notable for plumage accuracy and attention to field features. I will note two exceptions here where plate and text seem out of touch. Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus orenocensis (the cis-Andean lowland subspecies of Strong-billed Woodcreeper) is said, on the facing page, to have a “reddish bill,” although it is not so illustrated and the text does not corroborate it. It does, however, have a “reddish” eye, and this is so rendered on the plate. Then consider the adult Buteo albigula (White-throated Hawk): one of the most conspicuous and telling features of this raptor in flight is its dark axillars; although these are well illustrated, neither the facing page nor the text calls attention to that mark, much less emphasizes it. Then there is the occasional typographical error on facing pages, such as that on plate 45 where it is said that the male's “speckled throat meets rufous lower underparts” for Aglaiocercus kingi (Long-tailed Sylph), whereas what is meant is obviously the female's. But those are trivial oversights when weighed against the subtle and comprehensive artistic treatment of the many taxa that are visually distinct.

One of the pleasures the senior author must have had in working with his coauthor is that Paul Greenfield paints with the aim of getting details correct. That commitment overrides any personal investment, making him an ideal collaborator for a field guide. Greenfield can take a good suggestion and incorporate it gracefully. The detail of his brush is noticeable, even when the general shape or posture of the bird seems off the mark. The plates are formulaic in their organization, as is to be expected in a guide. However, some groups seem especially well done, in spite of this, such as the rails, pigeons, parrots, nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds, jacamars, toucans, antwrens, antpittas, and tanagers; others are less successful to my eye, such as woodcreepers, ovenbirds, antthrushes, thrushes, and owls. Two groups, the raptors and trogons, seem disquietingly squatty.

But most imperfections of the kind to which I point are susceptible to revision in future editions, as are incomplete distributional and elevational records, gaps endemic to such a work. That there will be future editions is sure to be the conviction of all those who examine the first. Contemplating these lovely volumes, I think on first looking into Chapman's Ecuador. Chapman and Fuertes. That is quite a tradition to renew. Yet despite some questionable procedures and a few infelicities, these neonaturalists with the conservationist aims have done just that. I am confident that we will all benefit by coming to see—and by endeavoring to protect—Neotropical birds through the keen eyes of Paul Greenfield, the engaging intellect of Robert Ridgely, and the passionate vision of both.

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John Rowlett "The Birds of Ecuador, Volume I: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. Volume II: Field Guide," The Auk 120(2), 562-568, (1 April 2003).[0562:TBOEVI]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 April 2003
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