The Birds of Italy, Vol. 1: Anatidae–Alcidae

By Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso

Edizioni Belvedere, 2018 

Hbk, 511pp; 82 colour photos, 100 illustrations, 181 distribution maps

ISBN 978-88-89504-60-4; €48.00

The Birds of Italy, Vol. 2: Pteroclidae–Locustellidae

By Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso

Edizioni Belvedere, 2020 

Hbk, 415pp; 82 colour photos, 15 illustrations, 125 distribution maps 

ISBN 978-88-89504-63-5; €42.00

While there is no shortage of information about European birds in our libraries, there have been few books which have reviewed this data at country level. In 2015, Eduardo de Juana and Ernest Garcia published The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula, which set a benchmark. In a similar style, Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso have produced the first book dedicated to the birds of Italy in the English language. This review coincides with the publication of the second volume of this three-part work, the first having appeared in 2018. The third volume is expected in about two years. 

Both authors have a long history of ornithological research activities and publications that date back to the early 1970s, and they were joint authors of the nine-volume Ornitologia Italiana, published between 2003 and 2015. While that work included much information on identification and ecology, the focus of this series is to provide detailed data on distribution, regional populations, habitats, movements and wintering numbers of all Italian species. The first volume deals with 384 species and a further 229 species are included in the second. 

There is a seven-page account of the geography, bioclimate and vegetation of Italy with photographs of a range of habitats (the latter differing in each volume). This is followed by a seven-page history of Italian ornithology, putting into context the work of pioneering ornithologists such as Scopoli, Savi and Moltoni, to mention just three, and then an eight-page section explaining how to use the book. In a three-volume work there will always be some duplication of material, but in the first two volumes these sections appear identical.

For each species there is a summary of the worldwide range followed by a more detailed account of the Italian breeding distribution (where appropriate) and a description of preferred habitats. A section on populations summarises what is known about each species nationally, and also reviews local studies in different Italian regions; these vary in detail and length, for some species this can extend up to 1,500 words. A monochrome distribution map accompanies all breeding and wintering species, showing range and geographical relief. These are also included for regular passage migrants but not vagrants. For the latter there is a list of all accepted records since the early 1800s. The most recent Italian breeding atlas has not yet been published and the previous survey dates back to 1983–86. Despite this, the authors have consulted a huge number of reports published on a local scale to bring everything up to date. A further section on movements and/or wintering extends to a further 50–1,000 words, depending on the species, and is occasionally accompanied by additional maps and seasonal graphs.

The appendices provide further information on introduced or escaped non-established species. There is a list of the conservation status codes of all breeding species, which would have been more useful alongside the actual species texts. A gathering of excellent colour photographs is placed at the back.

Both volumes contain a huge amount of information and the authors are to be congratulated for bringing together so much material. The text density is heavy on the eye. In common with their previous works (in Italian) the authors have allowed ‘forced hyphenation’ throughout the text where simple words (some even as short as five letters) are often split between two lines. A rethink on design would help to improve readability for the final volume.

Keith Betton

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