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.
Michel Thévenot, Rae Vernon, and Patrick Bergier. 2003. BOU Checklist No. 20. British Ornithologists’ Union and British Ornithologists’ Club. The Natural History Museum, Tring, United Kingdom. xii + 594 pp., 16 tables, 5 text figures, 76 color plates. ISBN 0-907446-25-6. Cloth, £45.00.—Thanks to a great variety of bird habitats, Morocco has an avifauna of special interest to ornithologists and birdwatchers. Four hundred and fifty- two species are known to occur there, including Palearctic and Afrotropical residents and migrants that pass from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa and back. The Morocco avifauna has 19 endemic subspecies, 4 endemic Maghreb species, and 65 endemic Maghreb and Moroccan subspecies. Morocco also has large wintering populations of wildfowl and threatened species, including 60 breeding pairs (in 1999) of Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita), one of the world’s last known breeding populations. The publication of The Birds of Morocco is a welcome event in Europe and Africa: it is the premiere source for what is known about the avifauna of this Maghreb nation up to the end of 1999, and undoubtedly will remain an important source for years to come.
Previously, one had to rely on several sources for information on Moroccan birds, including books such as H. Heim de Balsac and N. Mayaud’s Les Oiseaux du Nord-Ouest de l’Afrique (1962), R. D. Etchécoper and F. Hüe’s Oiseaux du Nord de l’Afrique (1964), and the earlier volumes of The Birds of Africa; scattered publications in the literature; unpublished private notebooks and reports provided by bird tours; and, since the late 1970s, annual reports by the three authors of The Birds of Morocco. This book, along with Birds of Algeria by P. Isenmann and A. Moali (2000) and the soon-to-be-published Birds of Tunisia by P. Isenmann and his colleagues, will make the ornithology of northwestern Africa better known than it has ever been.
The design of this book is attractive, and the cover painting of Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) by David Nurney is a special plus. The book follows the style of recent British Ornithologists’ Union Checklists, with an Introduction, the Species Accounts, four Appendices, References, and Index. The Introduction has informative sections on the general history of Morocco, history of ornithology in Morocco, geology, climate, flora and vegetation, geographic divisions and habitats, breeding birds, migration and movements, endemism, biographical affinities of the Morocco avifauna, changes in status, and conservation. For one with little knowledge of French and Arabic or the geography of Morocco, Moroccan localities are often difficult to determine. The authors have helped the reader immensely by dividing Morocco into eleven divisions, each with several subdivisions. All are indicated on maps in the book’s front matter and on the front and back inside covers. Each subdivision is assigned a number, and this number is listed for each locality in the gazetteer (Appendix 4)—a welcome feature when studying the ranges of birds in Morocco. The authors also have assisted the reader by listing the most important bird areas, including national parks and reserves, in the Introduction.
The bulk of the book is made up of the species accounts, which generally follow the sequence and nomenclature used by The Birds of the Western Palearctic (Cramp and Simmons 1977–198389; Cramp 1985-199223; Cramp and Perrins 1993, 1994) and The Birds of the Western Palearctic: Concise Edition (Snow and Perrins 1998). Each account gives an English name (most also give Spanish and French names) and has sections on status; breeding including range, habitat, and nesting dates; movements and migration; winter distribution; and ringing recoveries. The accounts are informative and well documented.
In the center of the book are 76 color plates, all outstanding. Plates 1 and 2 are maps of the geology and main bird habitats of Morocco, plates 3–54 are color photographs of the main bird habitats, and plates 55–76 are color photographs of some of the characteristic birds.
Another feature of this book, its 16 tables, covers a variety of topics, from the status of migrating birds in Morocco, to past and present colonies of Northern Bald Ibises, to the 15 most commonly ringed species in Morocco from 1932 to 1985, to biographical affinities of its past and current breeding birds.
The first appendix summarizes the status of bird species in Morocco, including those that occur there now and those that formerly occurred but no longer do. Also included are species whose present or past occurrence in Morocco is uncertain. In addition, introduced species are listed, with comments indicating which ones have established populations. Appendix 2 lists species that have been omitted, detailing where they were reported and why they were not included. Appendix 3 has a section on the history of bird ringing in Morocco and a detailed list of recoveries of ringed birds. The fourth appendix is the gazetteer, listing all Moroccan localities and geographic features mentioned in the text. I was especially pleased to see that, as noted above, each entry’s subdivision can be found on maps on the front and back inside covers of the book.
The references section includes the works cited in the text and all other significant works consulted. It is impressive, covering 65 pages. There are two indexes, one of scientific names and the other of English names. The back cover provides photographs and biographical information about the three authors—two from France, one of whom was born in Morocco; and a Welshman, Rae Vernon, who passed away on 9 March 2005.
In any work of this kind, one can find errors and omissions. For example, I wished that the list of figures and tables in the front of the book included page numbers. It would be helpful if the plate numbers for the photographs of birds were included in the species accounts, and the plate numbers for the photographs of bird habitats in the Introduction section on habitats. The species accounts would have benefited from more information on behavior and conservation. Despite the arrangement of the maps into subdivisions, each with its unique number, I still found some ranges in the species accounts difficult to follow. Maps would have helped, but undoubtedly would have made the book too large and too expensive. Sometimes the English bird names given are no longer commonly used (e.g. Cormorant rather than Great Cormorant [Phalacrocorax carbo] and Bald Ibis rather than Northern Bald Ibis). There also is some unnecessary duplication: for example, “Geographical divisions and subdivisions“ appears on page 13 in figure 5, on pages 38–39 in the text, and again on the front and back inside covers.
All in all, this is a first-rate book. As evidence of this, The Birds of Morocco was tied for fourth place in the British Birds-British Trust for Ornithology “Best Bird Book of the Year“ award competition in 2004 (British Birds 98:144–146, March 2005). The authors are to be congratulated on a fine piece of work. Their book, a welcome addition to the ornithology of the African and Western Palearctic, belongs in university, school, museum, and personal libraries.