Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil, Volume 2 – The Atlantic Forest of Southeast Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

Published on 09 November 2017 in Book reviews

Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil, Volume 2 – The Atlantic Forest of Southeast Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

By Robert S. Ridgely, John A. Gwynne, Guy Tudor and Martha Argel

Comstock Publishing Associates/Wildlife Conservation Society, 2016; pbk, 416pp; many colour photographs and distribution maps

ISBN 978-1-5017-0453-6; £23.50

This is the second volume in a planned series of five that will eventually cover the whole of Brazil. The first volume appeared in 2010 and covered the Pantanal and Cerrado regions of Central Brazil. Given the gap of six years many began to doubt the viability of the project. While I am pleased to discover that it remains viable, it is not clear how long we will have to wait for the remaining volumes. This volume covers 927 bird species that occur in just the south-eastern Atlantic Forest region, which is a real biodiversity hotspot with 140 endemic and 105 near-endemic bird species.

There are several good field guides to Brazil including van Perlo’s popular Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil, which, despite some shortcomings, includes over 1,800 species. This renders much of it redundant when birding in specific regions, so the concept of focussed field guides to regions of this vast country makes a lot of sense, and allows for longer species texts. Despite this, only 863 of the 927 species from the region are illustrated, with some simply mentioned in the text and not given a map. In a few cases (such as ‘São Paulo Marsh Antwren’ Formicivora paludicola and ‘Caatinga Antshrike’ Thamnophilus capistratus) these are relatively new discoveries, although not so new that there is no reference material to illustrate from. Furthermore, it simply does not make sense to ignore species like Planalto Slaty Antshrike T. pelzelni just because it looks almost identical to another species with a different range. I imagine that the main problem lies in the fact that many of the illustrations by Guy Tudor have been taken directly from his work for Birds of South America – Passerines, published by Helm in 2009, and that these species were not included in that volume. A team of additional artists was drafted in to paint the non-passerines.

The introductory pages give an overview to the region with information about the best areas and times to visit. The taxonomy used follows IOC in most cases although the authors have made adjustments where they do not agree with the IOC decisions (including the Antwren and the Antshrike listed above). Each species is described in around 140 words and the plates are on the opposite (right-hand) page. This allows for around five species per double-spread which is excellent. A colour distribution map for most species is included. I noticed a few errors, e.g., the text describing the Golden-spangled Piculet Picumnus exilis has been replaced with that for White-wedged Piculet P. albosquamatus, although the illustration and map are correct.

Given that Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country with a bird list now exceeding 1,900 species, the regional field guides concept is clearly the right one for this vast nation. Let’s hope that the next three volumes will follow fairly quickly.

Keith Betton