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1 April 2006 Curassows and Related Birds.
Nigel J. Collar
Author Affiliations +
Abstract

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.

Editor's Note.

We published a solicited review by Daniel M. Brooks of Curassows and Related Birds (2004; J. Delacour and D. Amadon with updates by J. del Hoyo and A. Motis) in the July 2005 issue of The Auk (122:1018–1019). We did not know that Dr. Brooks had submitted essentially the same review to at least four other journals: The Ibis, Conservation Biology, Oryx, and The Wilson Bulletin. Further, Dr. Brooks was involved with early stages of publication of the book and did not inform us of his association. Multiple publication of the same review in different journals defeats the purpose of having more than one viewpoint considered: it is unfair to the authors, publishers, and the scientific journals. To partially correct this unfortunate situation, we here publish an independent review of Curassows and Related Birds by Nigel Collar.

Curassows and Related Birds

Jean Delacour and Dean Amadon, with an updated chapter by Josep del Hoyo and Anna Motis. 2004. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. 476 pp., black- and-white maps and figures, 56 color plates, 6 dichotomous keys. ISBN 84-87334-64-4. Cloth, $75.00.—Curassows and Related Birds (1973) blazed a trail for new research into the Cracidae. The challenge was particularly met by Stuart D. Strahl in the second half of the 1980s, when he encouraged (with major support and small grants— totaling more than $500,000 over 10 years—from what is now the Wildlife Conservation Society) research on cracids throughout the Neotropics. With coalescing interest in the family via the (later World Conservation Union-World Pheasant Association [IUCN-WPA]) Cracid Specialist Group, which Strahl founded, a whole body of new data was generated; and when, in 1992, the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP; now BirdLife International) listed more than a quarter of all cracid species as “at risk of global extinction,” a further surge of conservation-oriented fieldwork followed. Moreover, the opening up of the Americas to birdwatchers and scientific ornithology alike has meant the rich proliferation of new information on cracids from nonspecialist sources as well.

A second edition of any book on birds 30 years after the original must always present real difficulties. In this case, over and above the exceptional quantity of new material to be incorporated, there was the problem of authorship: Jean Delacour was long dead, and Dean Amadon unable to participate actively in the new work. Perhaps it was this unusual circumstance that caused the normal procedure—to integrate new data and insights into the original text—to be discarded in favor of reproducing the first edition's text, maps, and illustrations unaltered (except in format and but for a couple of very minor adjustments) and gathering all the new material—Al Gilbert's illustrations of downy young, and Josep del Hoyo and Anna Motis's “update chapter”—into the last third of the book, a solution initially as odd and disorienting as wiring high-tech speakers to a wind-up gramophone. There is an appropriate recommendation for the separate citation of the update chapter; but another one, inviting the whole book to be considered simply a second edition—“Delacour and Amadon (2004)”—is misleading because, in reality, there is Delacour and Amadon (1973) and del Hoyo and Motis (2004), plus the new Gilbert plates. Readers of The Auk have already had an enthusiastic review of the first two-thirds or so of this book (Auk 91:445–448). What primarily concerns us here is the new material.

But first, let me say that this new edition is even more handsome than its illustrious forebear. It is printed on glossier paper, on smaller pages, and in smaller font, but of course comes out substantially longer, so that the whole has a satisfyingly chunky feel. The color plates are now bunched together in the middle of the book—doubtless sacrificing a certain immediacy and intimacy, but in fact also making visual comparisons more practicable.

The “update chapter” is a hefty 154 pages of detailed synthesis, the evidence being worked together in clear English with considerable skill and thought. It only updates the species accounts, not the original chapters on systematics, characters, morphology, plumages, habitats, reproduction, aviculture, or conservation, though relevant information on these matters is worked into the species accounts, each of which is allowed at least a couple of columns, and often four or five pages. The key subject areas of such a review (taxonomy, distribution, habitat, etc.) are picked out in bold in the appropriate paragraph for ease of reference, and each country in the conservation status review is signaled with small capitals. Possibly the greatest disappointment is that no new maps have been produced to refine the now very antiquated ones of the first edition, but the update authors are meticulous in reviewing the new distributional evidence and placing the old maps in context. All their material is scrupulously attributed to origin, and it is a testimony to their diligence (and to the ornithological endeavors of the past three decades) that the new reference list, with 645 citations, is more than 50% longer than the original one, and includes, as a gauge of the exhaustiveness of the bibliographical trawl, 22 doctoral theses. In the species accounts in the first edition, great chunks were quoted verbatim from their sources. In the update chapter, everything is much more digested and compact, but the authors generously find space for personal communications from a host of field workers with direct experience of the species in question, greatly adding to their section's authority and value.

Perhaps the entries which most immediately demonstrate the care and thoroughness del Hoyo and Motis have brought to their endeavour are those for the White-winged Guan (Penelope albipennis) and Alagoas Curassow (Mitu mitu). In 1973, the White-winged Guan was believed extinct and given just over a page of text, whereas the Alagoas Curassow was treated glancingly as a nominate subspecies, possibly extinct, and allowed perhaps 20 lines within the account of Razor-billed Curassow (M. [m.] tuberosum). The updated accounts offer four and three succinct pages, respectively. The stories they tell, clearly and in detail, of the rediscoveries and ensuing study and conservation are remarkable in themselves. Both species are supported by captive breeding programs; indeed, the Alagoas Curassow survives only because of aviculture, virtually its last population having been captured by a bird-fancier in the late 1970s. Ironically, this illegal and unconscionable act probably secured the species from the rampant hunting and forest-clearing that are now, following surveys in 2002, judged to have rendered it extinct in the wild. Nevertheless, the precious captive stock was allowed to miscegenate with Razor-billed Curassows, and only chance allowed the birds to pass into more dedicated hands. So there is still hope; and the update chapter is the place to read all about it.

The illustrations in the first edition were of particularly high caliber, and Gilbert's new material, which shows for the first time in color the downy plumages of all genera of the Cracidae, maintains his own standards from 30 years before. Plate 43, depicting five stages in the growth of a White-winged Guan, is as attractive as it is instructive, and all these downy young are beautifully done. Gilbert's treatment of his material bespeaks an irrepressible devotion.

Quirky and irksome as the structure of the book is, this new edition of Curassows and Related Birds is an outstanding feat of repackaging and upgrading and has converted what was in some ways a high-class coffee-table book into a solid reference manual that will serve the family and its students long into the future. It will surely come to be regarded as a very fitting tribute to Dean Amadon, who so regrettably died before he could see the final, first-rate product.—

Nigel J. Collar "Curassows and Related Birds.," The Auk 123(2), 599-600, (1 April 2006). https://doi.org/10.1642/0004-8038(2006)123[599:CARB]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 April 2006
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