News and comment
The Bernard Tucker Memorial Lecture: A species is whatever I say it is Nigel Collar’s transcript of his Bernard Tucker lecture, which charts the development of taxonomy in ornithology and assesses how the current system serves conservationists, is a gripping read. He concludes that ‘Conservationists have plenty of other work to be getting on with, and taking up their time with incomplete evidence and underdeveloped arguments whose final import is a species is whatever I say it is, in the style of Humpty Dumpty, seems hardly the most durable of foundations for “);
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Plumage variability of Marsh Harriers The Marsh Harrier is typically illustrated in field guides as a sexually dimorphic species, with several age classes identifiable by differences in plumage pattern and colour. In some populations, however, such as the one described in this paper, in west-central France, the species can show extreme plumage variability in adult males and, to a lesser extent, in adult females. In this population, barely a single adult male looks like a typical ‘field-guide male’. Since this plumage variability is independent of age and sex, it is almost impossible to age birds solely from their plumage. The authors recommend the recognition of this species as polymorphic, at least in some parts of its range.
The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year 2012 The winner, The Reed Warblers: diversity in a uniform bird family (by Bernd Leisler and Karl Schulze-Hagen, illustrated by David Quinn, KNNV Publishing, 2011) is a wide-ranging review of the Acrocephalidae. This book sets the genera within a number of fascinating biological contexts and provides background to species that last year’s winner helps us to identify. It is full of comparisons, within the acrocephalids and between them and their New World counterparts, that provide extraordinary insights into the ecology of these species. A beautiful design and many first-rate drawings and photographs combine with erudite yet clearly written and informative text to make a book well worthy of our highest accolade.
Conservation research news The dove’s last stand? Turtle Doves retreat to the best bits of breeding habitat. Construction of upland windfarms can displace some breeding brids, but effects differ between species. Protected raeas will be critical to allow birds to respond to climate change
Notes Fighting behaviour of Mute Swans. Breeding Pink-footed Geese in Norfolk. Common Shelducks attacking and killing Arctic Skua. Red-breasted Merganser display. Raptor migration at the Pelagie Islands. House Sparrow copulating with juvenile. Repeated feather-catching by Common Chaffinch. Cirl Bunting feigning injury.
Letters, reviews, and recent reports complete the March issue.
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